Sierra Sam and Sierra Susie have seen some things.
For the past 70 years, their crash test dummy family has been subjected to carefully calculated abuse in the hopes of making cars safer for humans.
Car safety has improved by leaps and bounds, but U.S. roads are the deadliest they have been in nearly two decades, government data shows. As more electric vehicles hit the streets, weighing upward of 25 percent more than their gas-powered equivalents, crashes could become more catastrophic, industry experts worry.
And for reasons not based just on biology, Sam is far better protected than Susie. Women are nearly 30 percent more likely to die in car crashes than men and up to 70 percent more likely to be seriously injured, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Still, federal crash safety tests do not require use of a dummy representing the average female.
All this weighs on the minds of engineers and executives at Farmington Hills-based Humanetics Group, where crash test dummies of all shapes and sizes come to life in Frankenstein-like fashion.
"Initially, the dummies were designed to prevent death, so you're just looking at, 'OK, does the head stay on?'" Barney Loehnis, president and chief marketing officer of Humanetics, said during a recent tour of its headquarters and testing facility.