The Ultimate Sacrifice: How Skoda's Crash Test Dummies Give Their "Lives" for Our Safety

There's no doubt that crash test dummies are part of the reason why our vehicles are so safe nowadays. Even though computer simulation technology has significantly improved lately, there's no substitute for real-life impacts and tests. Today, I'd like to tell you more about how Skoda ensures its cars are held up to the highest safety standards, thanks to the "dedication" of its crash test dummies.
The Ultimate Sacrifice: How Skoda's Crash Test Dummies Dedicate Their Lives for Our Safety 7 photos
Photo: Skoda
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The first crash test dummy, Sierra Sam, was first used in 1949 to test aircraft ejection seats, aviation helmets, and pilot restraints. The technology and capabilities of test dummies have notably increased since then.

Skoda has its own extensive crash laboratory, carrying out tests under strictly defined conditions. These tests are done almost on a daily basis, with up to 300 crash scenarios simulated per year.

Of course, there's a lot of equipment besides crash test dummies that's used in testing a car's safety, such as obstacles, lights, cameras, and a myriad of sensors. Crash tests are becoming more and more demanding and stringent, and regulations are getting stricter. But how does that translate in Skoda's world of dummies? Well, the brand uses an increasing number of types of crash dummies.

In the past, the Czech automaker used only a few. Nowadays, though, it has a range of at least twelve available. Eight of the dummies are adult-sized, while the remaining are child-sized, representing children aged 1.5, 3, 6, and ten years old.

Skoda's Crash Test Dummies
Photo: Skoda
Human sizes and shapes significantly differ, so that's why there are so many dummy variants. Their dimensions and design are based on the requirement of individual homologation regulations, consumer tests, as well as internal requirements based on population distribution. Moreover, even gender is taken into account, so there are separate dummies for males and females.

Categorizing goes even further – dummies usually have a percentage marking, such as 50% male. No, that doesn't mean it identifies as half-male, but rather that it represents an average male in terms of height and weight. For women, the most commonly used unit is called "5% female", which means that just 5% of women are physically smaller than that dummy.

A vehicle's safety must be tested in various situations, and a slightly different dummy is suitable for each type of test. Every variant is specially designed to mimic the behavior of the human body for a particular test, and they interact differently with the vehicle's restraint systems and design. Jan Domkar, the coordinator of vehicle safety development at Skoda, said, "That is the goal: to test as many options as possible to ensure that both adult passengers and children are well protected, wherever they sit in the car."

Skoda uses dummies such as Hybrid III or Thor for frontal impacts, while EuroSID II and WorldSID are used for lateral crashes.

Skoda's Crash Test Dummies
Photo: Skoda
Only standardized dummies are used in Skoda's tests – they're based on homologation tests and consumer tests performed according to Euro NCAP methodology. The same ones are used in both internal and official tests. That makes sense - Skoda must verify safety during the car's development to pass Euro NCAP's strict testing.

Have you ever wondered how pricey a crash test dummy is? Well, be prepared to be blown away, as they're generally the most expensive equipment used in a crash test.For instance, the one used for frontal crashes, named Thor, costs a whopping €650,000 (around $692,000), while the WorldSID side impact one goes for €350,000 (about $372,600). Keep in mind that the servicing and calibration costs are extra, and they must be done after a prescribed number of tests have been completed or when biomechanical limits are exceeded. So yes, the dummies used in crash tests are often more expensive than the actual cars.

But how alike are crash test dummies' bodies to those of humans? They're made from a vast range of materials and feature basic metal construction, making them durable, but that's just the base. Special metals are used for the ribs, spine, or joints, while the skin or pelvis is made of specific plastics. Furthermore, the load on each part is measured in order to ensure the optimum replication of actual injuries. Needless to say, the individual components are replaceable, so each basic dummy has a long, essentially unlimited lifetime.

Each mannequin is fitted with dozens of sensors that measure acceleration, forces, and deformation. With technology rapidly evolving, dummies are constantly being adapted. For instance, the 50% male one (Hybrid III) used at the beginning of the 2000s allowed measurements at 56 points on the body, while the recent Thor boasts 116 measurement locations.

Skoda's Crash Test Dummies
Photo: Skoda
Another example is the EuroSID2 dummy, which had 57 measuring points for side impact testing, and nowadays, the WorldSID dummy features 94 measuring locations. That brought its similarity to the human body from 4.6/10 for the older model to today's 7.6/10.
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About the author: Mircea Mazuru
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Starting out with a motorcycle permit just because he could get one two years earlier than a driver's license, Mircea keeps his passion for bikes (motor or no motor) alive to this day. His lifelong dream is to build his own custom camper van.
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