'Women are more at risk of whiplash injuries than men', says Astrid Linder
The creator of the first female crash test dummy, says that at present, it is not known whether cars protect men and women equally.
Safety statistics suggest that women drivers are three times more likely than men to suffer from whiplash injuries if their car is hit from behind. While motor vehicle trauma has been significantly reduced over the past decades, it is still unclear whether the benefits are equally realised by men as well as women inside the car.
Sweden-based road safety researcher Astrid Linder works at VTI, the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute. Linder has received the WOW (Woman of Worth) award for her work on the development of a female dummy from Mia Liström, one of the judges of the Women's World Car of the Year in Sweden.
Linder is also an assistant professor at Chalmers University, Sweden. Her work focuses on research in crash safety and biomechanics, with a particular focus on the development of dummies to assess risk in the event of an accident. One of Astrid's goals is to have crash protection studied for both men and women. Together with her colleagues at VTI and Mats Svensson of Chalmers University, they have developed the first medium-sized female crash test dummy.
How did your journey in road safety begin?
I studied engineering physics at Chalmers during the 90s and after graduation I looked for a job and found a position as a PhD student at Chalmers that caught my interest. The assignment involved developing the world's first crash test dummy for low-speed collisions to assess protection for soft tissue injuries of the neck, so-called whiplash injuries. At the time, there was no dummy or test for the type of collision that is the most common, resulting in disabling injuries. It was a big project in the 90s. The financing came from Vinnova (Swedish Innovation Agency), which was previously called KFB and was a collaboration with Volvo, Saab, Autoliv, Folksam and Chalmers. The crash test dummy created was the size of an average man, as that is the model of the occupant that we use as the driver in both frontal and side impact testing. After that, I worked in Australia and England. I also have significant experience of working as a manager in the area of road safety.
How did the idea of creating a female crash dummy start?
As part of my doctoral studies, I did a literature review and found that women were at higher risk of sustaining whiplash injuries than men. Then it became a logical next step for me to work to design a model that represents that part of the population, the women. Since we evaluate the protection against injuries with a model of an average man, we cannot today, in testing new cars, assess how well cars also protect the female part of the population. How the body is constructed does not differ between men and women when you look at the big features such as skeletal parts, organs and soft parts except the reproductive organs which are not essential in crash safety. Differences that are important to include in models for evaluating protection against injuries in a low-speed rear-end collision are things like upper body geometry such as shoulder width and centre of gravity of the torso, which are higher for men than women.
Today there is no possibility of assessing the protection of a new car for the entire adult population. Crash safety evaluation is done using an average (geometry, weight and height) man as the driver. In addition, we test with child models. To represent children, we have child dummies in many different sizes. Volvo has done tests with a pregnant model where the study was about how the foetus is protected. However, protection for women was not studied, as the model was not designed as an average woman. What drives me are the injury statistics that provide the basis for what needs to be developed and to make it possible to better identify the innovations that give the entire population the best protection. The work has been going on for more than 20 years.
What setbacks have you encountered over the years?
The biggest challenge has been finding research funding. My drive is that future crash tests should be done with crash dummies/tools that inclusively represent both the female and male so that we can identify in testing the cars that give the entire population the best protection in the event of a crash. But getting there requires more work. In the regulations for type approval tests used in Europe, UNECE, it is clearly stated that what is required for roadworthiness tests is that a model of an average man must be used. And as long as it says so in the regulations, the change will not come from society's demands. The companies follow what needs to be followed, nothing more can be required. To get ahead, cooperation, knowledge and will are needed, among other things (from the industry and the government.)
What’s your take on safety regulations in this respect?
It is important how we vote and what we get involved in, as it affects how the regulations develop. In terms of how difficult something is, developing a Covid-19 vaccine is incredibly much more difficult than developing a model of the average female for crash testing and the development of the vaccine was successfully done in a short amount of time. A lot has to do with what we decide to do. Already in 2012, together with Volvo, Chalmers, and partners from Europe, we produced a mathematical crash test dummy model of an average woman so that virtual tests with male and female models could be performed.
After this, it was widely believed that it was too difficult and expensive to develop a crash test dummy that represented the female part of the population. We managed to get funding from the EU for the recently completed project where we designed both a mathematical and physical model of both an average woman and man.
What would you like to see in the future?
My vision is that we improve road safety together and that by 2030 we can evaluate the protection in the event of a crash for both women and men inclusively.
This article was first published in Autocar Professional's December 15, 2023 issue.
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