YOU won't meet the THUMS family at your local supermarket and they aren't due to appear as characters in your favourite TV soap, but as a 'family' they are going to make a big impact. Several impacts, in fact, as they are a new breed of virtual crash test dummies, created by Toyota to help it design safer vehicles.

THUMS - that's Total Human Model for Safety - is a virtual representation of the human body that can provide vehicle engineers with precise data about the injuries real people might suffer in different kinds of vehicle accidents. Unlike the traditional crash test dummy, the Thums have human attributes that are more than just skin-deep.

The complex computer modelling takes into account elements such as bone strength and skin flexibility, right down to ligaments and tendons. It simulates the real human body so precisely, it is possible to predict more accurately than ever before the physical damage different kinds of impact will cause, both to vehicle occupants and pedestrians. The degree of accuracy has been demonstrated by the close match achieved between an X-ray taken from a real-life accident victim and the results achieved in a THUMS simulation, both in terms of the body parts affected and the level of injury.

Toyota has designed 30-40-year-old male and female occupant dummies and a male pedestrian dummy from the same age group. The THUMS are due a happy event soon with the completion of a child dummy. These models are being used to help improve passive safety in vehicle body design by helping identify elements that can cause injuries in an accident and enabling the effects of any adjustments to be evaluated.

Creation of the THUMS modelling is in line with Toyota's Maximise and Zeronise vision for product and technology development that includes an ambition to eliminate all traffic accidents. This work is not just about technological concepts for the future, but can be seen in safety developments that have already been brought to market.

These include: - *Pre-Crash Safety (PCS), which uses a front-mounted radar to detect when a collision is inevitable and automatically tightens the front seatbelts and prepares to deliver maximum braking power. In the UK PCS is available on Lexus LS 430, GS 430 and GS 300 SE-L models.

*Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), which coordinates the deployment of active safety and handling systems for smoother operation before a vehicle reaches its performance limits. VDIM is available on the Lexus GS 430 and Lexus RX 400h. *Adaptive Front-lighting System (AFS), which allows the headlights to swivel in line with vehicle speed and steering angle to improve illumination through bends. AFS is available on Lexus GS, LS and RX models.