The statistics show a disturbing trend. Although men are more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than women, on a per-crash basis, women are about 20-28% more likely to be killed. They’re also 37-73% more likely to be injured, once speed and other factors are accounted for.
In front collisions, women are about three times as likely as men to suffer moderate injuries like broken bones or concussions. They’re twice as likely to experience a more serious injury such as a collapsed lung or traumatic brain injury.
How much of these discrepancies are due to how our society runs its crash tests? After all, there is no “woman” crash test dummy; testers use a small-sized male dummy to run crash tests for females. Could that mean we don’t really understand the dangers to women in motor vehicle crashes? Or are women physically more susceptible to injury?
Those are possibilities, but a new study points to a combination of factors to explain the discrepancies. One factor is that women are statistically more likely to drive smaller, lighter vehicles. Another factor is simply the circumstances of the crashes.
“Our study shows that today’s crash testing programs have helped women as much as men,” says one of the study’s authors and vice president at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). “That said, we found that women are substantially more likely to suffer leg injuries, which is something that will require more investigation.”
What the researchers found was that, when they compared only similar crashes, most of the statistical differences were resolved. The study examined injuries in men and women in crashes between 1998 and 2015 that involved a police report and a tow-away after a front or side crash.
Vehicle size matters
According to the IIHS, female drivers are more prone to drive smaller, lighter vehicles. These vehicles may be at a disadvantage in collisions, with minicars having the highest fatality rate among all vehicles.
To determine whether there was anything more to that fact, the researchers compared similar front- and side-impact crashes to see if there was still a discrepancy in the injury rates between men and women.
Once they limited the comparison to similar crashes in similar vehicles, the discrepancy narrowed but did not completely disappear. Women were still twice as likely to be moderately injured and somewhat more likely to be seriously injured.
Are vehicles being made safe for women?
The IIHS performs safety tests of automobiles, and it is keen to know whether changes are necessary to reflect physical differences in the sexes. Some sex-related differences were still apparent even after taking vehicle choice into account, so more research needs to be done.