• Oct 24th 2013 at 2:11PM
  • 19
Crash test dummies prepared for impact. (Flickr, chuckb... Crash test dummies prepared for impact. (Flickr, chuckbiscuito)
Facing budgetary pressures, researchers in Spain said they're going to stop using crash test dummies and start using human cadavers.

According to an online report on Spain's ABC channel, researchers at the Laboratory of Technology and Systems for Safety In Automobiles (TESSA) in Alcaniz in northern Spain are one of six places in the world where human-body crash tests were conducted. The Daily Mail said the bodies were cheaper than traditional crash-test dummies.

But researchers said using cadavers (which come from medical labs that have already used the bodies for their tests) will give them more data on what happens to internal organs during a crash.

While the practice of smashing dead bodies in cars may seem shocking, data from such experiments have saved thousands of lives. And it's been going on for decades.

Newly developed crash test dummies owe their life-like technology to research done on cadavers of the past. When the field of biomechanics was still in its infancy, new and reliable data from real human bodies was needed before reasonable facsimiles for human bodies could be created.

Research began in the 1930's when Lawrence Patrick first studied impacts on his own body. He quickly discovered those tests weren't sufficient; he needed to test the limits of human endurance. First, he flung a cadaver down a Wayne State University elevator shaft to test the strength of a human skull. He found the skull can be subjected to a ton and a half of pressure for one second without damage. Since then, cadavers have been used to study multiple impact scenarios affects on different parts of the human body.

Using cadavers in crash testing isn't as popular as it once was, but continues to this day in America and Europe. Auto manufacturers stick to crash dummies in their testing, since they don't want to get involved in the messy job of handling human remains. Instead, universities around the world get money from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and make the resulting data readily available to manufacturers. Because cadavers come so close to mimicking real people, the date gathered from such tests is invaluable. In a 1995 article in the Journal of Trauma, Wayne State researcher Albert King estimated that about 8,500 lives each year are saved as a result of crash research on cadavers.

Using cadavers has its drawbacks: Bodies yield imperfect data because no two cadavers are alike, and can only be used once in testing. Cadavers donated for scientific research also tend to be older and more fragile. One NHTSA crash study noted the average age of cadavers used was 72. Younger cadavers are harder to come by, since car accidents are a leading cause of death for younger people. Once a body has been subjected to a crash it is useless for data gathering. Bodies must also have their lungs and veins re-pressurized before testing to better mimic living tissue. There are also very few studies done on pediatric cadavers, leading companies like Ford to develop their own pediatric crash test dummies.

For all their drawbacks, cadavers are still occasionally needed in safety testing, as imitations are not quite perfect. Today's computer simulations and technologically advanced crash test dummies are used to gather more reliable data for comparison studies.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 1 Year Ago
      There is a wonderful, informative book called "Stiff" by Mary Roach, who explores the way cadavers help the living. Of course the bodies are all donated!! Where do people think we get the information with which to build and program body replacements such as the crash dummies?
      • 1 Year Ago
      This is DEAD issue!
      • 1 Year Ago
      I'm an organ donor, After they remove whatever they want, use what's left for whatever you want. It's not like I'm going to come back and want it anyway.
        • 8 Months Ago

        The cadavers used for crash tests must be intact, since they are in part testing for the effects of a crash on the internal organs.

      • 1 Year Ago
      that's sick . no respect for the dead and probably even less for the living , the all mighty greed of money prevails,
        • 1 Year Ago
        They're already dead, might as well use them to try and save future lives. Plus, these cadavers were already donated to medical labs - clearly these people intended for their bodies to be used after death. It's not like they just go around stealing bodies and say "Oh hey, you know what would be cool? Putting these random bodies in a car and crashing the car, just to see what happens!"
        • 1 Year Ago
        How does greed of money prevail? The bodies are donated and the donors no longer need them. Some people donate their body just for that purpose.
        • 1 Year Ago
        If it weren't for the tests done with cadavers, your new vehicle would not have the modern saftey features it has. How do you think they realized that the front seats needed headrests back in the 60's? You can't collect all of the data needed from crash test dummies. I guess you are also against using cadavers for medical purposes as well.
          • 1 Year Ago
          So this is why so many cars today look like electric shavers? Give me an old car with some personality and steel any day.
      • 1 Year Ago
      In 1960's my husband worked in the Engineering Dept at UCLA & he was a "LIVE" crash test dummy! He was used to test seat belts. After 6 yrs decided to transfer to a safer dept.. Maybe they learned something regarding using LIVE people vs test dummies or cadavers?! He retired after 40 yrs of service to the University.
      • 1 Year Ago
      I had never even considered this possibility! But, it makes a lot of sense. Still, after 80 years or so, it seems like we'd have a pretty good idea of how to build crash-worthy cars without a lot of additional testing required. And, as far as using older cadavers, wouldn't it make sense to design around the most fragile bodies rather than the more robust and flexible bodies of younger people?
      • 1 Year Ago
      What could they possibly learn of what can happen to a LIVE body in the event of a crash? Who is responsible for this? Makes you wonder if surviving relatives know of what is being done to their loved one?
      • 1 Year Ago
      I'd hate to be the janitor in that crash-test facility. Very messy.
      • 1 Year Ago
      the bodys are donated the're not out robbing graves
      • 1 Year Ago
      They don't look like real dead bodies.
      Roberto De Gomez
      • 1 Year Ago
      I have donated MY Body to SCIENCE FICTION.....
      • 1 Year Ago
      We could send them a dummy to use. OBAMA.
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