Why Women Are More Likely to Die in Car Crashes

Both auto companies and government agencies share the blame

Crash-test dummies inside car with inflated airbags, close-up. Women are more likely to be hurt than men in car crashes due to poor design from government agencies who use crash test dummies.
How these crash test dummies are designed makes a huge difference for men and women in accidents.
Wayne Eastep / Getty Images

The government and all major car companies are quite aware that women are much more likely than men to be injured in an automobile accident — they just don’t seem inclined to do much about it.

That’s the conclusion reached by writers Maria Kuhn and Hana Schank — two women who have been in serious car accidents — in a startling new Fast Company feature. Even if both authors hadn’t had their own traumatic experiences, statistics back up their claims: Men are more likely to cause accidents, but women are more likely to be injured.

Why? The authors note that every car that receives a safety rating from the National Highway Safety Transportation Association (NHSTA) undergoes four tests that “mimic the impact of frontal, rollover, side, and side pole crashes.” While women are 72% more likely to be injured and 17% more likely to die in a car crash than men, the frontal crash test the agency requires is only performed using a male driver.

For testing women in the passenger seat of a car, the NHSTA uses a smaller and slimmed down male dummy, which doesn’t take into account differing bone densities, muscle structures and abdominal and chest physiologies of women. And because of this, safety measures such as airbags and seatbelts can actually cause additional harm to women depending on the type of crash.

For the lack of a woman dummy for testing, you can go back 40+ years and blame reduced budgets at safety agencies. As well, men — surprise — tend to drive bigger and more dangerous vehicles, which are deadlier for smaller cars (something the NHSTA noted all the way back in 1997) and also more dangerous to pedestrians … who, again, are more likely to be women and people of color.

So what can be done? Include more women in production design, to start. And support the INVEST in America Act from the House of Representatives, which includes a provision requiring updated dummy implementation tested for every seat — sadly, the Senate version of this infrastructure bill does not include this.

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