Researchers at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently conducted a study showing women are injured more frequently in crashes. And they’re asking the question why.
While Jessica Jermakian, IIHS vice president of vehicle research, draws some general conclusions about the kinds of vehicles women drive versus vehicles men drive, the tl;dr answer is this: They don’t know.
Especially since the study shows women are 20% to 28% more likely to be killed and 37% to 73% more likely to be seriously injured than men.
In a phone interview, Jermakian said these are just the kinds of things that need closer study, and part of the point of looking at the crash data is to see how it can help IIHS improve its testing.
“We have plans to dig into the data little deeper,” she said. “This was a first pass to really look at these findings that women are at increased risk compared to men in crashes, and really try to understand from a crash testing point of view how we might need to change our crash tests.”
One interesting thing to note is IIHS currently uses a dummy that’s the size of an average man, which translates to 5-feet, 10-inches. In contrast, the average height for women is 5-feet, 4-inches. While Jermakian said this midsize male dummy does a good job of improving safety that benefits both men and women from severe injuries to vital organs, leg injuries in women are a discrepancy.
“It really comes down to better understanding what the problem is,” Jermakian said. “Is it things like inherent differences between men’s and women’s bodies? Physiological differences? Or differences in the bones and their structure and makeup? Or is it still something that we aren’t controlling for like posture? Or it’s even been hypothesized in the past that it could be footwear related.”
So, the end result is that this is something the IIHS is going to look at throughout the next year to see if there’s a way to improve the crash-test program to better address these issues.
“It’s clear we have more work to do,” Jermakian said.
The bottom line on women injured in crashes
The good news is crash testing has helped women as much as men because less intrusion into the cabin means occupants are generally safer – no matter their size.
My initial reaction is: Could adjustable pedals be the easy answer here? If there is more lower extremity damage to women, I personally have to wonder if the further-forward driving position and closer proximity to the knee bolster on the dash could be a problem.
We did ask Jermakian about adjustable pedals, and she said IIHS hasn’t really looked at them and how they respond in crashes, but neither has she seen data that they make the vehicle less safe.
Though there isn’t a clear answer at this moment, I for one am glad IIHS is interested in finding an answer.