Women are more likely than men to be seriously injured in car accidents. It's a well-known fact; it's been reported on for years. A 2011 study found that with men and women who wore seatbelts, women were 50 percent more likely to be seriouesly or fatally injured in a car crash. And until now, no one has been able to figure out why. Turns out the answer is way more infuriating and unacceptable than you might think.
A new study from the University of Virginia found that yes, women are still much more likely than men to sustain critical injuries in car accidents. And it found that the the crash-test dummies used to test vehicle safety are to blame.
According to CityLab, this new study analyzed crashes involving more than 31,000 people between 1998 and 2015. While the good news is that all riders are "now more than half as likely to sustain serious injuries in newer models (those manufactured in 2009 and later) than in older cars," there's still some bad news.
Women still remain in more vulnerable positions when involved in "frontal impact collisions," even when they wear a seatbelt, and no one has been able to figure out exactly why. "We obviously know a lot of ways that men and women are different bio-mechanically," says Jason Forman, a principal scientist at UVA's Center for Applied Biomechanics.
For example, female pelvises tend to be wider and more shallow than male pelvises, and fat is distributed differently. "These differences," Jason says, "have the potential to change the ways that seatbelts interact with the body and with out underlying skeletal structures." While all these different variables between male and female bodies have been identified, no one has yet done the work to figure out which ones matter or how they matter. I'd say it's high time for that to get done, don't you?
The problem is that researchers have historically used "male-type crash-test dummies," says Becky mueller, a senior reseach engineer at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. And while those dummies have done an OK job of resulting in improvements for all different types of people, they're just not doing enough for women.
The only female crash-test dummy, which has been used since the early 2000s, tends to "simulate smaller women," Jason says. It is five feet tall and weighs 110 lbs. Sure, it's important to be able to run tests for women of this size, but that only covers a teeny tiny part of the female population. It's just not enough.
Unfortunately, this isn't something that can be rectified right away. According to Becky, building a crash-test dummy model requires 20 to 30 years of bio-mechanical research and testing. That's a long time. The dummies that many manufacturers are using now were built using data from the 1970s and 1980s, "which skewed heavily male."
Not to mention, the average person in the U.S. today might generally be a different size and shape than the average person 30 years ago. Well, this is disheartening. Even advances in technology, including a digitally-produced 3D dummy, is "only as good as the information it's built on," says Jason. The research needs to happen, and that takes time.
It truly sucks that women have been shafted so much in society that we're literally more at risk to die for being in the exact same position as a man. But it's also not surprising.
And as car technology develops and things like self-driving vehicles become more popular, safety technology is going to have to scramble to keep up.
Perhaps people will start reclining more while riding in cars, or start facing backward. All these changes mean seatbelt technology and other safety standards will have to be updated as well. But I don't know, y'all, as a woman, I really hope they focus their energy on making the cars we already have safer for women to drive and ride in.
As Jason says, "If we leave things on the same course, we're going to be in the same position with autonomous vehicles as we are with regular vehicles now. We're going to end up building autonomous vehicles with females that have a 73 percent greater risk of injury, too." Great. Just great.
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