A gender gap exists and it’s not based on ability to drive, but the
likelihood of surviving a serious crash.
On average, women have a 17 percent higher risk than men of dying in crashes,
a national study shows. This is likely due to a variety of factors ranging from anatomical
to technological and engineering factors such as equipment being designed
to keep occupants safe without women’s bodies in mind.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study released in May analyzes crashes of cars and light trucks and vans of
the past 50 model years to see how technologies introduced during that
period affected the higher relative risk of injury and fatality for older
motor vehicle occupants and women.
While we’ve known for a while that age plays a role in risk of fatality
in car accidents as the body’s fragility (likelihood of injury given
a physical assault) and frailty (chance of dying from a specific injury)
increases with age, this study shows that intrinsic human anatomy and
gender also affects risk.
Young adult women up to approximately age 35 have a 25 to 30 percent higher
fatality risk, given similar physical insults, than men of the same age.
Fatality risk increases about 3 percent each year a person grows older
starting at about 21. This rate of increase is slightly less for women
than men. Gradually men’s fragility catches up. Men become frailer
sooner than women as evidenced by men’s lower life expectancy. For
drivers, female’s risk diminishes sharply after age 35. After their
late 60s or early 70s, females are at lower risk than males the same age.
Among the key findings in the
- Older occupants are vulnerable to thoracic injuries, especially multiple
Females are especially vulnerable to neck injuries and abdominal injuries.
- “The high risk of neck injury appears to be related to the anatomy
of a typical female: a male’s neck has greater spinal-column strength
than a female’s, yet a female neck is called upon to support and
control the motion of a head that is almost as large and heavy as a male’s,”
the report stated.
- “Their higher risk of abdominal injury is harder to explain . . .
It is possible that the lowest part of the ribcage surrounding the abdominal
organs, which is not well supported by the spine and sternum, may be an
especially fragile spot in the female relative to the male anatomy.”
- Women are not as vulnerable, relative to men, to most head injuries; and,
in the front seat, to heart injuries.
Belted women in the back seat are more vulnerable than men to thoracic
and abdominal injury possibly indicating that back-seat belts protect
men better than women from these injuries.
- Seat belts have been historically somewhat less effective for older occupants
and female passengers, but more effective for female drivers, according
to the study.
Seat Belts Originally Based On Male Dummy
Back in 1995 the
Chicago Tribune reported that the Government Accountability Office theorized that seat
belts may not fit women as well because the devices are designed primarily
for men. The GAO reasoned that this was because the federal government
required automakers to design systems around a 50th percentile male dummy,
which represents a 165-pound male who is 5-feet, 9-inches tall.
ABC Action News reported it was only a year ago when the five-star rating system to grade
the crash worthiness of new cars started using crash test dummies that
resembled both men and women.
Newer Technology Paves Brighter Path
The good news is that vehicles have become much safer for everybody over
the past 50 model years. For example, occupant fatality risk has decreased
by 42 percent from 1955-1960 to 2002 due to increased seat belt use, air
bags, and other Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards,
analysis based on 2004 NHTSA data shows.
However, a closer look shows that the fatality risk for females relative
to males of the same age grew a little bit from vehicles of the 1960s
to vehicles of the late 1980s. It wasn’t until the 1990s that female’s
relative risk to males shrunk substantially,
perhaps to half its original level or less.
All the major safety technologies,
except for the earlier belt systems for passengers, contribute to shrinking the fatality risk for females relative to males.
The combination of air bags and belt use, especially belts with pretensioners
and load limiters, which retract the safety belt in a crash to remove
excess slack, has greatly reduced the gender gap, at least for fatality
risk. Newer technologies also show potential to decrease risk of an older
person relative to a younger person in the same crash situation.
Accident Statistics: Battle of the Sexes
While women may have less likelihood of surviving a serious crash, statistics
show that they are less likely than men to get into a serious crash to
begin with, since men, especially younger men, take more driving risks,
which explains why men, especially younger men, tend to have higher car
Regardless of gender a wreck due to someone else’s negligence can
be devastating. If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident
due to the other driver’s negligence, please contact us.
 Kahane, C. J. (2013, May).
Injury vulnerability and effectiveness of occupant protection technologies
for older occupants and women. (Report No. DOT HS 811 766). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety