Crash course for mums

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SAFETY features of new cars are becoming ever more sophisticated, but so too are the crash dummies used by manufacturers to test them, writes David Usborne.

Next month, General Motors plans for the first time to begin impact experiments on a type of dummy with unusual characteristics: it will be female and pregnant.

For three decades, researchers here and in Europe have been sending dummies of men, women, children and babies hurtling down test tracks into concrete in the quest for car safety.

Corpses have also been used, especially to determine the resilience of internal organs to sudden deceleration. Until now, nothing has been available to test impact endurance on pregnant women.

The new member of the dummy family will be the normal female version, but with a polyurethane bag strapped to the abdomen to represent a seven-month pregnancy. The bag will contain a model of an appropriately sized foetus, surrounded by gel of the same consistency as amniotic fluid.

Developed by GM and the University of Michigan, the bags will also include an umbilical cord and the placenta to determine what forces will tear the internal parts loose.

GM hopes to determine whether air-bags, in particular, reduce the risk of foetal death in accidents and whether the design of safety belts might be improved.

(Photograph omitted)