Crash Test Dummies Studied for Cycling Safety

Researchers recreate cyclist-car crashes with a high-tech dummy

You could learn a lot from a dummy. And, for years, crash testers have done just that, improving automobile safety based on recreating accidents in the controlled environment of a crash test, using sensor-rigged dummies. A couple of years ago, though, a group of Canadian engineering students decided to apply the idea to bicycle crashes, and developed a very high-tech dummy to record the data from common bike accident scenarios. Here's some background on the dummy from a 2012 Ottawa Sun story:

  “The idea is that we should be able to throw this crash test dummy into whatever situation and get a reasonably accurate result, regardless of whether we know (in advance) what injuries we’re going to have,” he said.

When engineers crash a car, they use one type of dummy for a frontal crash, and a different type for an impact from the side. Neither type is considered quite right for a cyclist who hits something, or slams on the front brakes hard, and flies over the handlebars.[...]

The dummy wears a helmet. But like a human cyclist, it keeps the important stuff inside its head.

This includes one sensor that deforms under the force of impact, to show the stress that a real cyclist would endure.

There are also two accelerometers, devices that can measure any change in speed, either faster or slower.

The fourth-year students at Ottawa's Carleton University and Algonquin College developed the first iteration of the dummy over an 8-month period in the 2011-12 school year. At that point, the "cyclist" dummy was designed to simulate head and neck injuries sustained when a rider goes over the handlebars of a bike at 25 kilometers per hour (15.5 miles per hour). But running the dummy through crash tests took on new meaning for the students last fall, when one of their own, 27-year-old Carleton grad student Krista Johnson was struck and killed while cycling.

As such cyclist-automobile collisions are frequent—and often deadly for cyclists—the researchers decided to put their dummy through that scenario to find out what specific injuries a (helmet-wearing) cyclist might normally sustain.

During the first test (video below), the vehicle was traveling 13 mph and the bike 15.5 mph. Researchers have yet to crunch the data from the crash test, but the video shows how dangerous even a very low speed collision can be for a cyclist (Read: You DO NOT want to be that dummy). Carleton University welcomed local police and paramdedics to witness the simulated crash, in the hopes that they might learn from the test and be better equipped to respond to real-life emergencies.

In the coming weeks, the students will analyze the data from the test, and hope to learn more about cyclist-vehicle collisions by crashing their dummy into cars at different speeds and different angles. For now, though, this video at least serves as a sobering reminder to cyclists of how dangerous the streets can be. Be safe out there.