More women than men are licenced to drive cars in the United States and they influence 80 per cent of car purchasing decisions. But you’d never know that by the disturbing facts in a new study that shows auto accidents are much more dangerous for women than they are for men.
Because, as it turns out, manufacturers are not taking women into account, despite their purchasing power, when they design automotive safety features. Almost all vehicle safety tests are conducted with crash test dummies modelled on a man’s anatomy, not a woman’s.
The shocking result of that exclusion, according to the study from the University of Virginia, are that the odds of a female sustaining a serious to fatal injury when she is in a collision are an alarming 73 per cent higher than they are for a male.
That may sound counter-intuitive, considering that more men than women are injured and die in car crashes each year. But the fact is, the high injury and death tolls for men are mainly the result of risky driving behaviors that result in more collisions, not a lack of built-in safety features designed specifically to protect them when they do crash.
It’s time regulatory authorities mandate that automotive safety tests are designed for both men and women. Anything short of that should be penalized.
Sadly, these latest findings are nothing new. As Caroline Criado-Perez, the author of “Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men,” points out, researchers at Michigan University made the case for the inclusion of crash test dummies modelled on women in tests as far back as the early 1980s.
But their advice, and the results of numerous studies conducted since then that have echoed the University of Virginia results, were ignored. Why? Manufacturers have been reluctant to invest the millions of dollars required to create anatomically correct female crash dummies.
The result? Safety tests don’t account for the differences between male and female bodies, such as how breasts may alter how seat belts function or how women generally sit closer to the steering wheel because their arms and legs are shorter.
Now Carolyn Roberts, a researcher at the University of Virginia, concludes: “We’re improving automotive safety for males at a faster rate than we’re improving it for females.”
That’s unacceptable. Even worse is the fact that the auto industry is far from alone in ignoring women, with dire results for their safety.
Sadly, designers of body armour and construction safety equipment, such as harnesses, do the same. As a result, women are at a higher risk of dying of everything from stab and gunshot wounds to falls.
Even NASA failed to consider the differences in the bodies of its female and male astronauts when it planned the first all-female spacewalk last March. That had to be scrapped when the space agency realized it did not have a medium-sized space suit on board the International Space Station for one of the female astronauts, so a man was sent in her stead.
Medical researchers often ignore women, as well. For example, women make up more than half the 35 million adults living with HIV worldwide and yet they are vastly under-represented in clinical trials looking for vaccines, treatments and cures.
That’s true, too, of research into heart disease, which focuses on male symptoms even though it is the No. 1 cause of death for women around the world.
Even the lab rats used in clinical drug trials are more likely to be male because female ones are considered more complicated because of their fluctuating hormone levels.
Women should not be dying in 2019 because they are, as Criado-Perez argues, invisible. The study on crash test dummies is a wake-up call for researchers and designers the world over.