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Study: Poorly Designed Car Safety Features Put Women Drivers at Risk

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140 on the M1 (woman driving)Women in the U.S. won the right to vote in 1920, with the Nineteenth Amendment. But women are lagging behind in being protected in car accidents, according to a new report, because car safety features have been designed largely for men.

The study, published in the October 2011 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, was conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia, who analyzed national crash data concerning 45,445 crash victims for the years 1998 through 2008. The researchers, Dipan Bose, Ph.D., Maria Segul-Gomez, Sc.D., M.D., M.P.H., and Jeff R. Crandall, Ph.D., found that the odds for a female driver who is wearing a seat belt to sustain serious injuries in a collision were 47% higher than for a male driver wearing a seat belt in a similar crash.

As Nicholas Bakalar reports in The New York Times:

Compared with male drivers in the study, women were 5 ½ inches shorter and 35 pounds lighter; fewer were overweight; and more were driving passenger cars at the time of the crash. After controlling for these factors and others, the researchers found that women were 47 percent more likely to suffer severe injuries.

The investigators say female drivers are more susceptible to injury because of differences in neck strength and musculature, the positioning of head restraints, and their shorter stature and preferred seating posture. Car safety devices have been designed largely for men, and women may need safety features that take into account their differences.

The study concludes that health policies and regulations for vehicles need to make sure that safety features are designed specifically for the female population, in order to protect women from injury as much as they protect men.

Maggy Patrick writes for the ABC News blog Medical Unit that car safety features have been designed for men because male drivers are three times more likely to be involved in a car crash that leads to serious or fatal injuries. But Patrick adds that in recent years there has been an increase in the number of women drivers getting into such serious auto accidents.

Patrick further writes:

Although Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety says that the study had the right concept,  it doesn’t apply to today’s vehicles. The researchers focused on crashes (and cars) between 1998 and 2008. All of the cars used in the study were an average of six years old.

‘The average life of a car is around 12 years,’ said Ditlow. ‘The study would have a lot more value if it were limited to 2000 and later model year vehicles to make sure all vehicles had female friendly airbags,’ he said. Since new 2012 models are coming out now, some of the cars used in the study are almost 20 years old.

For those women drivers who might be driving older cars and want to stay as safe as possible, the study’s lead author, Dipan Bose, told The New York Times: For now, “female drivers can ensure that their safety systems perform optimally, including maintaining a good belt fit and correct seating posture.”

Image by Jason Rogers, used under its Creative Commons license.


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