New research shows that while cars are safer than they’ve ever been, women are at far greater risk of suffering serious or fatal injuries in a collision compared to men.
And a major reason why, experts say, is because automotive safety tests are conducted almost exclusively with crash test dummies modelled after men.
CBC News obtained an advance copy of a University of Virginia study that is set to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Traffic Injury Prevention.
It looked at 22,854 frontal crashes between the years 1998 and 2015 involving 31,254 occupants, ranging in age from 13 to 97 years old, with a near equal proportion of males (49.4 per cent) and females (50.6 per cent). All were restrained by a three-point safety belt. Pregnant occupants past their first trimester were excluded.
Researchers found the odds of a female sustaining a serious to fatal injury in a collision are 73 per cent higher than they are for a male.
This in spite of the fact the study also found that the odds of sustaining a serious to fatal injury in a model year 2009 or newer vehicle are 55 per cent lower compared to older vehicles.
“We are improving automotive safety, tolerance, injury and fatality risk as a whole,” said Carolyn Roberts, a PhD student at the University of Virginia studying differences in automotive safety outcomes. “However … we’re improving automotive safety for males at a faster rate than we’re improving automotive safety for females.”
Researchers and other experts say that’s because of a lack of available female-specific safety data.
“We’re not including females in the data analysis, in the regulatory tests, in anything we do,” said Roberts.
Many of the crash test dummies used today are based on U.S. military men from the 1960s. “So it’s a very fit-shaped male,” said Becky Mueller, senior safety engineer at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in Ruckersville, Va., an independent research organization that uses crash tests to rate the safety of vehicles.
The IIHS conducts 60 to 70 crash tests per year and has conducted more than 1,300 since the mid-1990s.
“One factor as to why we’ve focused mainly on male crash test dummies is that dummies take a long time to develop and to use,” said Mueller.
The dummy the IIHS is currently using was developed in the 1970s and really wasn’t even scientifically ready for use in research until the 1990s, she said. It has become kind of the standard dummy for the past 20 years.