Smaller, lighter cars could be putting female drivers at risk.
Smaller, lighter cars could be putting female drivers at risk.

Women more likely to be injured in crashes, and it could be down to car choices

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Feb 12, 2021

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ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA - According to new research from the US, women are far more likely than men to be seriously injured in a car crash, and this is not due to physical differences.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the heightened risk that women face is largely due to the types of cars they drive as well as the circumstances surrounding their crashes.

Although men are involved in more fatal crashes than women, on a per-crash basis women are 20-28 percent more likely than men to be killed and 37-73 percent more likely to be seriously injured after adjusting for speed and other factors. However, when IIHS researchers limited the comparison to similar crashes, they found those discrepancies mostly disappeared and that crashworthiness improvements have benefited men and women more or less equally.

“Our study shows that today’s crash testing programs have helped women as much as men,” said IIHS vice president of vehicle research Jessica Jermakian.

“That said, we found that women are substantially more likely to suffer leg injuries, which is something that will require more investigation.”

The numbers show that women more often drive smaller, lighter cars and that they’re more likely than men to be driving the struck vehicle in side-impact and front-into-rear crashes, Jermakian added.

According to the IIHS, one explanation of the higher injury rates for women could be vehicle choice. Men and women crashed in MPVs and SUVs in about equal proportions. However, around 70 percent of women crashed in cars, compared with about 60 percent of men. More than 20 percent of men crashed in pick-ups (AKA bakkies), compared with less than 5 percent of women. Within vehicle classes, men also tended to crash in heavier vehicles, which offer more protection in collisions.

In a separate analysis of data from the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System, the researchers also found that in two-vehicle front-to-rear and front-to-side crashes, men are more likely to be driving the striking vehicle. Because the driver of the striking vehicle is at lower risk of injury than the struck vehicle in such crashes, this could also account for some of the differences in crash outcomes for men and women.

Are better crash test dummies needed?

Recently, the discrepancy in injury risk for men and women has prompted calls for new crash test dummies that better reflect how women’s bodies react to the forces of collisions and other changes to crash-testing programs. With this new study, IIHS sought to shed more light on the issue and to see what kind of changes to its vehicle testing program might be warranted.

The researchers analysed the injuries of men and women in police-reported tow-away front and side crashes from 1998 to 2015, keeping in mind that the results apply to the US and not South Africa.

In front crashes, researchers found women were three times as likely to experience a moderate injury such as a broken bone or concussion and twice as likely to suffer a serious one like a collapsed lung or traumatic brain injury.

In side crashes, the odds of a moderate injury were about equal for men and women, while women were about 50 percent more likely to be seriously injured, but neither of those results was statistically significant.

To determine how much of the discrepancy was due to physical differences between men and women, the researchers then repeated the analysis with a limited set of “compatible” front crashes. This subset was restricted to single-vehicle crashes and two-vehicle crashes in which the vehicles were a similar size or weight or the crash configuration was such that a size or weight difference would not have played a big role. To further reduce differences between crashes, only those with a front airbag deployment were included.

IOL Motoring

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