Why Are Women at Greater Risk of Injury in Car Accidents?

Doug Mann

It’s no secret that women are more likely to be injured and killed in car accidents than men. Data shows a significantly higher fatality rate for women versus men involved in similar traffic crashes dating back at least 60 years. 

Table of Contents
  1. What’s Behind the Increased Risk to Women? 
  2. Why Don’t We Know More about the Physiological Factors? 
  3. Next Steps for Vehicle Safety for Women
  4. Injured in a Car Accident? 
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An in-depth 2013 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that women were 13.4% (+/- 2.0%) more likely to die in a traffic accident compared with men who experienced “similar physical insults.”  And, that’s an improvement over the late 1980s, when the fatality risk for women was 20.5% (+/-3.8%) higher.

Women are also more vulnerable to injury in automobile accidents–up to 37% more vulnerable.  For certain types of injuries, the increased risk is even higher. For example, female drivers are 98.5% (+/-30.8%) more likely to suffer leg injuries in a traffic crash.

And it doesn’t end there. While the size of the gap differs, women in fatal collisions are more likely to suffer head injuries, chest injuries, abdominal injuries, and neck injuries. In non-fatal crashes, women were more likely to suffer injury to the:

  • Head 
  • Chest
  • Abdomen
  • Neck
  • Arm
  • Leg

The increased risk is greatest for the neck and limbs.

Unfortunately, in the decades since these discrepancies were first noted, little has been done to make women safer in motor vehicles. General safety improvements, including the widespread use of three-point seatbelts and airbags, have benefitted women as well as men. But, the risk to female drivers and other female vehicle occupants remains elevated compared with male drivers and occupants.

What’s Behind the Increased Risk to Women? 

A recent study published in Traffic Injury Prevention attributed some of the difference to crash severity and size and weight of vehicles. Researchers found that women were significantly more likely than men to be driving cars, while men were more than five times as likely to be driving pick-up trucks. Even where vehicle types were the same, men tended to drive heavier vehicles. The average curb weight of vehicles driven by men in the study was higher across all categories: cars, pick-up trucks, minivans and SUVs. 

Larger, heavier vehicles generally provide greater crash protection (and thus have a higher survival rate) for multiple reasons, including the fact that a longer vehicle puts more distance between the vehicle occupants and the point of impact in a frontal crash. At the same time, these larger and heavier vehicles tend to inflict more damage on vehicles they collide with. 

Researchers also concluded that the role of physiological differences between men and women warranted further study. 

Why Don’t We Know More about the Physiological Factors? 

Carla Bailo, CEO of the Center for Automotive Research, points to history. One significant way automobiles are safety tested is through the use of crash test dummies. When crash test dummies were introduced to the automotive industry decades ago, Bailo says it was assumed that men would typically be driving. It’s been more than 50 years since safety advocates and the automotive industry realized that testing should include men who weren’t average-sized, women, and children as well. But, even in 2022, execution on that idea is somewhat limited. 

An expert tip from Doug Mann

Some of the most important testing is conducted with only “male” dummies in the driver’s seat. Just as important, “female” dummies aren’t really representative of females in any way except size. And, it’s just one size. At 4’11’ and 108 pounds, the dummy is representative of the smallest 5% of adult women

Even worse, the “female” dummy’s construction doesn’t take into account variables such as the different size and curvature of the female spine, or the fact that women have some different internal organs than men. The spinal differences seem particularly significant, given that women have a much higher risk of neck injury in motor vehicle accidents than men.

Next Steps for Vehicle Safety for Women

Fortunately, this issue seems to be getting increased attention in the past few years. But, research into the reasons for the discrepancy, how testing should be adapted to account for it, and what changes in design may be warranted by the results will take time. That leaves women in a difficult position, aware of the increased risks they face on the road but knowing meaningful solutions may be years in the future.

In the meantime, Consumer Reports says crash ratings are still the best place to start in terms of minimizing risk. While crash testing isn’t currently designed for women, some of the variables that make a driver or passenger safer in a crash–like the weight of the vehicle or the distance between the occupant and the point of impact–offer added protection for women as well as men. 

And, we know from earlier data that the use of three-point seatbelts and vehicles equipped with airbags reduce the increased risk for women. 

Injured in a Car Accident? 

If you’ve been injured in a motor vehicle accident, you may be entitled to compensation. Depending on the circumstances of your crash, responsible parties may include another driver involved in the collision, the manufacturer of a vehicle or vehicle part, or even a governmental entity responsible for road maintenance and design. To learn more about your rights and options, schedule a free consultation right now. 

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