(WDIV)--Most people think safety is one of the most important deciding factors when people chose a new car.
But those people probably don't think about the unsung heroes of the safety world. Crash test dummies sit in during tests to represent people.
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"Humanetics is the original crash test designer dating back to 1952," said Chris O'Connor, president and CEO of Humanetics. "We're a small to mid-sized company, and yet, we're the leader in the world for this type of technology."
Part of the reason they're ahead is because of a partnership with the International Center of Automotive Medicine, led by trauma surgeon Dr. Stewart Wang.
"Like CSI, we get a lot of folks together, we look at a lot of data, and we come up with very clear insights into why injuries are occurring," said Wang.
Years ago, he noticed a change in the pattern of injuries from car accidents and realized it was because the crash test dummies needed some major updates.
"I would jab at the dummy guys and say, 'Your dummies look nothing like my patients. Theylook nothing like the population these days," said Wang.
The driving population now is a lot different than it was 50 years ago, when the first crash test dummies were designed.
"As the population has gotten older, it's gotten fatter. It's gotten more diverse. The crash dummies aren't as representative," said Wang.
"It wasn't envisionsed that people would be driving at age 70s, 80s, 90s," said O'Connor.
"What we've been able to do is to utilize information that is now captured with medical imaging from live subjects, and that is the data that we have been providing to Humanetics to give them bettter insight into how to design more apporopiate dummies," said Wang.
More appropriate dummies reflect the most vulernable drivers.
"Elderly, obese, these are clearly vulnerable drivers," said O'Connor.
"They're more apt to be killed or severly injured in a crash."
So keep in mind when checking out safety ratings for a new car that a 5-star rating could be a little misleading.
"Your body size may react differently to the restraint, to the airbag, to the seatbelt, to the seat itself, and as a result of that, it might be less safe for you," said O'Connor. "Our newest dummies, the elderly dummy and the obese dummies, are intended to reflect that type of person."
So what could drivers and passengers see in the future using this information to keep themsafer?
"I think the variation we need to see over time is a variable restraint system or seats or other things that would vary based on the occupant," said O'Connor. "So as the occupant gets in the car, if it knows, like we all know in our smartphones and everything else, what your body mass index is and your size and shape, then why not have the vehicle adjust to your body size?"
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