Women Are Dying in Car Accidents. Here’s Why.

Women Dying Car AccidentsA few years ago, we shared with you an advertisement from Volvo about the automobile manufacturer’s plans to test their vehicles using female crash test dummies. Volvo’s decision to do this was vitally important since women suffer more injuries – including more severe injuries – in car accidents than men, particularly whiplash and other neck-related injuries. This despite the fact that men are more likely than women to be involved in car accidents.

We were excited to share the news about Volvo’s recognition of the lack of research into vehicle safety for women, as well as their plan to address the issue, because this lack of research is a serious and ongoing issue within the automobile manufacturing industry. In fact, in an opinion article recently published in The Washington Post, former Congresswoman Susan Molinari of New York and Beth Brooke, the former global vice president of public policy at EY, shine a light on the matter, pointing out that women are more likely to die in car crashes than men – and making clear the connection between the stunning lack of research and the consequences women suffer as a result.

Molinari and Brooke cite a study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which revealed that a female victim in a motor vehicle crash is 17% more likely to die than a male victim. Additionally, according to a 2019 study by the University of Virginia, women are 73% more likely than men to suffer serious injuries in a vehicle crash.

So, what’s the reason behind these staggering statistics? Simple: Crash test dummies are male. This matters because women and men differ greatly physiologically.

As Molinari and Brooke point out, even for tests where the federal government requires the use of female dummies, the dummies used are merely smaller versions of male crash test dummies. They are not designed to mimic the proportions of a female body. Therefore, the test crash test results cannot be considered accurate regarding the impact of a crash on a female driver or passenger.

Since the use of crash test dummies in vehicle safety test first became standardized in the 1970s, the proportions of the crash test dummy were based on those of an average-size male. However, the male and female bodies differ greatly, especially in terms of average overall size – including height and weight, bone density, and the placement of the center of gravity. The average woman tends to be smaller in stature than the average man, and, as Molinari and Brooke mention, women’s abdomens “occupy a different position in most car seats than men’s do. As a result, women are more likely to sit closer to the steering wheel and suffer from severe whiplash in an accident.”

As Molinari and Brooke point out, this issue has been a well-known fact in the industry for many years, and yet Volvo is one of the few car manufacturers to address the matter. This is especially egregious when one considers that, thanks to advances in technology, automobile manufacturers could deploy crash test dummies that are better equipped to assess the potential risks to male and female bodies during accidents:

Over the past few decades, crash test dummy technology has evolved to the point where a new generation of dummies can better replicate men’s and women’s unique physiology. Advanced female dummies have more sensors in the abdomen and pelvis to measure impacts with seat belts, more facial sensors to provide information about how and when air bags should inflate, and more ways to measure impact against the chest to reduce risk of rib fracture. The data provided by advanced female dummies could inform adjustments to car design at the seat belts, headrests, air bags, pedals and more.

While Volvo’s 2019 announcement that they would be studying the effects of auto accidents on the female body and working to make their vehicles safer for female drivers and passengers is movement in the right direction, it is not something that all car manufacturers are making a priority. Perhaps most concerning, the vehicle safety rating program that consumers rely on when purchasing an automobile is administered by the NHTSA and remains voluntary. The program does not require the use of female crash test dummies and only requires that male dummies are tested in the driver’s seat in several of its key crash tests.

Do most women know the risks they face in car accidents? Not likely.

The majority of female drivers may be unaware of the increased risks they face while driving or riding in a motor vehicle, likely because they trust that a five-star safety rating given to a passenger vehicle is based on tests that consider the unique physiology of both men and women, rather than being awarded based on the crash results for a five-foot, nine-inch, 170-pound man. The risks of severe injury or death are significantly greater for a woman than a man, yet women are kept in the dark about this fact.

As Molinari and Brooke make clear in their op-ed, the substantial lack of information means that we simply do not know what the true vehicle safety rating is for a woman who is five-foot, two inches and 110 pounds. As such, vehicles are not being designed with the safety of women in mind. The two are calling for meaningful and immediate changes to testing requirements and standards. They are calling on the NHTSA that administers the voluntary testing program to use their authority to require car manufacturers to “use the most up-to-date crash test dummies available, including those that represent females, and to test both male and female dummies in the driver’s seat.”

According to Molinari and Brooke, this is an issue that can be addressed immediately and implementing the solution would only increase the cost of a new car by one dollar.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident in Nashville or anywhere in Tennessee, contact the skilled personal injury lawyers at Rocky McElhaney Law Firm for assistance. We understand how devastating these injuries can be – physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially – and we have extensive experience fighting on behalf of Nashville car crash victims. With offices in Nashville, Hendersonville, and Clarksville, we represent personal injury clients throughout Tennessee. We fight every day on behalf of our clients to ensure they receive fair compensation for their injuries and the damage to their quality of life. Give us a call at 615-425-2500 or complete our contact form today to schedule an appointment to discuss your case.