Frontal Impact

About Frontal Impact Dummies

Frontal impact dummies and frontal impact testing are the foundations of current world wide highway safety efforts. Before their introduction it was assumed that victims of car crashes were victims of fate. These dummies have replaced this thinking with the use of current engineering methods to prevent death and injury on the road.

Why we test with Frontal Impact Dummies

Work by US Air Force Col. John Stapp in the 1950’s and the publication of “Unsafe at Any Speed” by Ralph Nader in 1966 demonstrated that many deaths and injuries were caused in low speed, 15-30 mph crashes. The occupants were injured either by falling out of the car or hitting something inside as they slid forward as the car stopped suddenly after hitting something in front of it in a frontal impact.
Over half the fatalities were due to head injury, followed by thorax injury and debilitation due to femur breakage or hip dislocation. These could be caused by hitting the windshield, the headliner, the steering wheel or the dash board.
It was determined that restraining the occupants in their seats would prevent this “second impact”: people hitting the inside of the car after the car hit an obstacle. The frontal impact dummies were developed to test these restraints--seat belts and airbags.

History of Frontal Impact Dummies

The modern United States automotive safety movement had a large impetus from the experience of the United States Air Force. Col. John Stapp, an air force flight surgeon in the 1950’s determined that more of his fighter pilots were dying from car crashes than from incidents with their high-performance, high-maintenance jet aircraft. This very surprising information lead to the initiation of the Stapp Car Crash Conferences in the 1950’s to deal with automotive safety issues and to Col. Stapp’s involvement in automotive safety for over 50 years. These conferences have continued to the present day, starting with emphasis on vehicles and dummies and moving into areas of biodynamic response, biophysics, and properties of tissues.
With the publication of “Unsafe At Any Speed” by Ralph Nader in 1966 data was introduced indicating that very low speed crashes 15 to 30 miles an hour were extremely fatal. This indicated that part of the responsibility for death an injury on the road was due to vehicle characteristics in addition to the actions of the driver. This lead to the founding of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration by Congress.
The founder of Humanetics' predecessor companies Samuel W. Alderson had been producing dummies for aircraft and medical use and had been involved in the Stapp conferences. He developed the VIP dummy series (Very Important People) which were adopted by the NHTSA for frontal impact testing.
After approximately 6 years the vehicle manufactures requested upgrades to the performance of these dummies leading to the development of the Hybrid II 50th percentile frontal impact dummy by General Motors under the sponsorship of the NHTSA. The dummy which used parts from the VIP-50th percentile dummy as well as parts from other domestic dummy manufacturers such as Sierra Engineering.

Frontal Impact Dummies in the US Code of Federal Regulations

The Hybrid II was introduced in 1973 and was written into the United States Code of Federal Regulations as subpart “B” of the anthropomorphic dummy standard. (note 1)  It was specified for frontal impact testing in Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208. Occupant Crash Protection. (note 2)  It was deleted from the frontal impact protection requirement in September 1997 but remains in Part 572 and is still used for aircraft testing.
In order to continue to improve highway safety the NHTSA contracted GM to develop the Hybrid III dummy, a biofidelic and mechanical improvement over the Hybrid II. The Hybrid III frontal impact dummy was introduced in 1978 and remains in force today, required for frontal impact testing specified in FMVSS 208 and in part 572. (note 3)
To broaden the applicability of adult frontal impact testing to smaller occupants the Hybrid III 5th percentile female dummy was developed and introduced into the Federal Code in March 2000 as Subpart “O”. (note 4)

Future Frontal Impact Dummies

Currently the “Hybrid lV” or THOR dummy is under development as a possible successor to the Hybrid III. It will incorporate biomechanical and measurement enhancements enabling crash testers to investigate injury pathways not included in the design of the Hybrid III. The Hybrid III 95th percentile male dummy is in production for evaluation and possibly will be included in the Federal Code in the future.

Frontal Impact Dummy Review

The initial purpose of the frontal impact dummy and frontal impact testing was to test restraint system effectiveness in preventing head injury-as expressed by concussion, thorax injury as represented by rib compression and thorax acceleration, and leg injury as expressed by femur fracture and hip dislocation. Over the years the dummy line has developed to give added measurement capabilities to aid the vehicle designer, crash test engineer and federal regulator.
This dummy line has been very effective in reducing death and injury on the roads and has lead to a new generation of motorists and their children who think safety first and use their seat belts for crash protection.


  1. United States Code of Federal Regulations: Transportation 49CFRPart 572 Subpart B-50th Percentile Male.
  2. United States Code of Federal Regulations: Transportation 49CFRPart 571.208 Occupant Crash Protection.
  3. United States Code of Federal Regulations: Transportation 49CFRPart 572 Subpart E-Hybrid III Test Dummy.
  4. United States Code of Federal Regulations: Transportation 49CFRPart 572 Subpart O-Hybrid III 5th Percentile Female Test Dummy.