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A Sled Ride with Dummies

For 50 years, Volkswagen has relied on a sled on rails for safety in the event of a crash. Ina Rathje sets up the sled at the Driving Safety Center in Wolfsburg.


A sled on rails, a 142-meter ride at up to 100 km/h, then full brakes. The seat belts hold in the dummies, the airbags are triggered and the car comes to a stop at a short distance from the wall. That was it. In just 300 milliseconds, the crash test is over. The workload for the sled test is high. “Setting up the bodywork with the dummies takes about half a day,” explains Ina Rathje. The native of Saxony has been working on the sled for more than seven years. She knows the controls like the back of her hand.

"In the sled tests, we can recreate the precise function of modern safety systems in use today, such as the emergency brakes."

Gunnar Koether, Vehicle Safety Manager

Before Ina Rathje and her team get started, employees in Development have already calculated and simulated much of the passive safety data. The aim of passive safety is to reduce the severity of injuries in the event of an accident. The most important ways to do that are the seat belts and the airbag, but also child seats, head rests and the crumple zone. The sled test then follows the simulation, because that is the acid test and delivers the hard facts. The team performs up to 800 crash tests a year with the sled on the ground floor of the Driving Safety Center in Wolfsburg. 

Ina Rathje and her most important tools: a cordless screwdriver, wrench and torque wrench, which she uses to secure the body shell on the sled.

Hardly a day goes by on which Ina Rathje does not ride the sled with the dummies. Almost 30 years ago, the now 47-year-old started an apprenticeship in industrial mechanics at Volkswagen in Wolfsburg. Soon she will celebrate 20 years in Technical Development, where she has been sled testing since 2011. There she plans the order of the crash tests and the exact timeframe for setting up the sled. Bit by bit she then pieces the test carriage together on the sled: assembling and securing the body shell, installing the seats, seat belt tensioners and instrument panels, mounting the airbags, dressing the dummies, lifting them into the test carriage with the crane and strapping them in.

While the crash test is underway, Ina Rathje has already turned her attention to the next sled test. When it’s all over, she dismantles the setup. The chief attraction of the sled test? Nothings breaks and nothing is destroyed, because the sled has a “long nose” at the front. This is a chock that disappears in a small channel in the wall, braking the sled to a halt. So it’s not a single-use sled, but one that Rathje and her team can easily reuse for the next crash test.