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The Science of Crash Test Dummies: Cadavers

Updated on December 12, 2013

Crash Test Dummies

What happens to a body when a person dies? Does it end up in a grave, cremated, or decomposing in a creepy neighbor’s backyard? It may, but it could go on to be so much more. A body can go on to have, in a sense, a life after death. Bodies that are dedicated to science go on to have curious second lives as cadavers. They have new jobs and a new life where their efforts save and improve millions of lives. How is this possible, one is may ask? Well, for one, cadavers do not have to do much more than lie around while they are manipulated by the living. They just lie there and regard researchers with nonjudgmental gazes while they are used in all sorts of manners to better understand the human body. Cadavers are used by medical doctors to perfect techniques, to better understand decomposition, and to better understand forensic applications, but these are the blander uses for cadavers. The cadavers that really get to experience a new life are those who are used as crash test dummies. It seems weird to use human bodies as crash test dummies, but through their enthusiastic devotion to be crashed into concrete walls, they save many lives.

The Cadaver

Cadavers are the deceased who have donated their bodies to science (before they died that is). People donate their bodies by contacting agencies such as The Anatomy Board of the University of Florida, where they will get information about the institute or university that they want to donate their bodies to, and directions on how to go about donating (Roach 305). Where people donate their body is, unfortunately, the only thing they get to choose. People can’t specify what they want their bodies to be used for; they go where there is a need. So a person’s body can end up doing many different things. Many cadavers go on to be dissected by medical interns at universities, because operating on a live person for the first time is just unethical. Then there are those cadavers who have their bodies removed from their heads. A cadaver’s head will then go to universities where upcoming plastic surgeons will perform postmortem facelifts, since, even in death, wrinkles are intolerable. Some of the more fortunate cadavers will go to The Body Farm in Tenseness (Michelle). This is a farm where forensic scientists basically “plant” bodies in different conditions to simulate situations in which a body may be left after a murder or accidental death. The information gathered from these experiments is vital to figure out time of death. These are the most common uses for cadavers, but one of the most interesting uses for these lively volunteers is when they get strapped into a car and get ready to go for a ride.


Put to the Test

Cadavers are marvelous volunteers in the field of research. They never complain, argue, or care about the hours that they have to work. This is a good thing, because I’m sure living humans may have some aversion to being crashed into a concrete wall at 60mph around six in the afternoon, even if it’s for a good cause. Cadavers are used as crash test dummies because, let’s face it, the only thing that really responds like a human body is a real human body. This testing also provides a baseline to properly calibrate crash test dummies. These crash test cadavers are used by NASA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and auto manufactures. NASA uses cadavers to analysis the effects of acceleration and deceleration during landings and take offs . This Information ensures safer rides for astronauts. The NHTSA and auto manufacturers use these crash test cadavers to test airbags, seat belts, windows, and steering wheels (Roach). A synthetic crash test dummy can tell a researcher how much pressure is exerted on the collar bone from a seat belt during a crash at 45mph, but a cadaver will tell a researcher if the collar bone will break or not from that pressure. After a simulated crash, the corpses are x-rayed, autopsied, and data is gathered from the sensors on the cadavers. When cadavers are used in these tests, researchers attempt to treat them with respect. Their heads are swaddled and their limbs are bound. This makes it easier for researchers as well. While crash testing may seem to be a crude activity and is not as glamorous as going to a medical school, it’s no less important and provides valuable, life-saving information.


Their Contribution

Over the past sixty years, the dead have helped the living work out human tolerance limits for "skull slamming, chest skewing, knee cramming, and gut mashing: all the ugly, violent things that happen to a human body in a car crash". The data that has been gathered from these gruesome experiments has lead to improvements in the automotive industry. These brave men and women put their bodies on the line so that the living can have a longer and safer life. Ford, for instance, has been promoting inflatable seat belts in its 2011 Explorer to help prevent the collar bone from breaking in crashes. Thick tempered windshields caused horrible concussions and death to people in car crashes, but the use of cadavers in tests with windshields helped improve the type of glass used in cars (Roach 87). Windshields today have more give, enabling the modern-day head to “undergo a 30mph unbelted car crash” straight into a wall and come away with little to complain about except a welt and an owner whose driving skills are up there with the average cadaver’s (Roach 89). Cadavers have also shown that humans have a maximum of a three inch depression on the chest before their ribs will puncher their lungs (Roach 90). This data can be used to improve steering wheels and help researchers when they design synthetic crash test dummies. These improvements have helped make driving a safer experience, but there will always be those crazy sociopaths that do not care about human life and go on driving rampages for the sole purpose of running people down.

In the End

Cadavers are dedicated to risking their lives, but mainly their bodies, to science so that we can have safer lives. Cadavers are used for a wide range of research, yet crash test cadavers have contributed the most to public safety. Through death, life emerges unscathed. Researchers are able to gain vital information from cadavers that have lead to improvements. We now have safer cars. People are now able to survive a crash at 60mph (Roach 36). This would not be possible without cadavers. People donate their bodies to science, their cadavers are used in research, and ultimately millions of lives have been protected due to these guardian cadavers. There are many options out there when it comes to where a body goes when it dies, though, in all honesty, being a crash test dummy seems a lot better than ending up rotting in a creepy psychopath’s basement, not that we can always prevent that from happening.


Cook, Michael. “Cadavers used as Crash Test Dummies.” BioEdge. New Media Foundation. 2010. Web. 17, Nov. 2010.

“Crash Test Dummies.” SpaceRef Interactive. NASA. 2010. Web. 16, Nov. 2010.

Michelle, Julie. “About Cadavers.” eHow. eHow inc. 1999-2010. Web. 15, Nov. 2010.

Roach, Mary. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. New York: Norton. 2003. Print


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    • SpaceShanty profile image

      SpaceShanty 3 years ago from United Kingdom

      Very interesting, thanks for sharing!

    • Peter Geekie profile image

      Peter Geekie 4 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear Annajazz,

      Thank you for a well written and researched article. In cases where the deceased has close family then their wishes should be paramount but when there are no close relatives use to further medical science seems eminently sensible.

      Voted up, awesome and interesting

      Kind regards Peter

    • annajazz profile image

      Anna Marie 4 years ago from New Mexico

      Thanks For Enjoying it.

      I can understand the feeling of the people back then. Doctors used to only use pigs to practice as Anatomy lessons because using a deceased human for such experiments was seen as horrid. I believe it was not until Dr. Nicolaes Tulp in1632 that the practice was brought back as there was great debate over the fact that many believed that the inside of a human resembled the inside of a pig. Which was only true partially. And even then, he was only allowed one dissection per year and it had to be an exacted felon.

    • MobyWho profile image

      MobyWho 5 years ago from Burlington VT

      At the turn of the century (1900) my father was a medical student at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. I'm told the med students left the building through a tunnel because local residents were horrified that they were actually using cadavers and the students feared for their safety. My source's father was a fellow student of my father's "way back when".

      Thanks for the Hub: it's nice to know we can be useful even after death.

    • twig22bend profile image

      twig22bend 5 years ago

      Very interesting Hub. Thanks for sharing.

    • pgupta profile image

      pgupta 5 years ago


      Thanks for clearing my doubts.

      Best wishes.


    • annajazz profile image

      Anna Marie 5 years ago from New Mexico


      Thanks :)

      When it come to cadavers used in car crash simulations, the reuse really depends. Sometimes only the chest cavity is used for the test, other times the whole body. I have read that reuse can be done when looking into the effect of multiple crashes on a single body. Such, as if, the car was hit by two different automobiles. Though, a lot of times, the body will go on to be used by medical student for there own practices. Especially up coming forensic pathologists as it allows them a chance to see the effect of car crashes on the human body.

      When it comes to cadavers, nothing is ever wasted.

      I am glad that you found this hub informative. Many people do not realize that cadavers are used because car manufacturers do not really want to talk about the subject. Mostly, I believe, because a lot of people may not be comfortable with the fact.

    • Kejanny profile image

      Kejanny 5 years ago from Port Moresby

      This is very interesting information. A great hub. Voted up.

    • pgupta profile image

      pgupta 5 years ago


      I thought that they use dummies during car crash trails. This is a complete new information for me. But after one test can they reuse the body or they have to discard it. A fantastic hub.

      Thanks and best wishes.