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Women involved in car accidents are 47% more likely to be seriously injured than a man. You may initially look at that statistic & think – well they must crash more than men. But that is a statistic that is fairly easily discredited as there is extensive research & data that shows that men are involved in motor vehicle accidents more often than women (some two times more likely) 

So why are women & elderly drivers being more significantly injured.

The reason it appears could be in the humble crash test dummy that has been used for decades to test cars and their safety systems or rather a lack of female crash test dummies.

This has major implications for the safety of women driving cars — and it’s likely many women don’t even know that the car they’re driving hasn’t been crash tested with a dummy that resembles them. 

Back in 2011, a study by the University of Virginia Centre for Applied Biomechanics revealed that female drivers involved in car crashes were 47 per cent more likely to fall victim to a serious injury or death than their male counterparts and were 80 per cent more likely to suffer serious injury to their legs than male drivers.

This, experts suggest, is because women tend to sit further forward when driving in order to reach the pedals as their legs are typically shorter and they often need to sit more upright to see clearly over the dashboard which all influences the driver position in the vehicle relative to safety devices such as seat belts and airbags as well other factors such as the proximity to the steering wheel.

Women are also at greater risk of whiplash injuries in rear-end collisions due to having less muscle in their necks and upper torsos than men.

But as well as female physiological differences, safety testing was also blamed. You see crash test dummies have traditionally been built using a male anatomy and so testing has been typically tested on the body of an average man.

At the time car crash test dummies were designed in the 1970s, 76% of road deaths were men. So using an average male dummy allowed testers to ensure that assessments would relate to the largest proportion of accident victims.

But it seems there is also the issue that no-one has thought to build a female dummy. The history of male bias precedes today’s crash test standards, beginning with Sierra Sam, the first crash-test dummy. Sam was developed in the 1940s for the U.S. Air Force to help protect pilots, and was in line with the body norms of the day. Sam represented a person most likely to end up in the cockpit of a plane: an adult male.

So with the disparity in injuries between men and women, it might seem like a no-brainer to simply make a female crash-test dummy that reflects the average height and weight of women today and put her in the driver’s seat during tests. Apparently that is because a crash-test dummy like this doesn’t even exist.

The problem it would seem is both political and financial. Firstly, there is no requirement on car manufacturers to test safety using an accurate female test dummy which has probably led to the lack of funding going into producing one. A new crash-test dummy can cost upward of a million dollars and has to be developed and built.

Major safety rating systems used around the world don’t use an updated representation of an average female in their tests for car safety.

Most vehicle-crash safety tests simply use a scaled down version of a male dummy – a fifth percentile representative female dummy that is 149 cm and 48kg. Today the average Australian woman is 161.8 cm tall and weighs 71.1 kg. 

The problem is she is still not a physiologically accurate dummy to represent an average female or elderly person’s body shape and organ location. And is also significantly smaller than the average woman has been for years.

ANCAP, The Australasian New Car Assessment Program which undertakes crash tests, assesses and rates the safety of new vehicles told the The Sydney Morning Herald in an article on 31 January 2022, that they currently use a “family of dummies” which included two fifth percentile female dummies, which are smaller than 95 per cent of the adult female population, as well as male, adult and child versions.

This use of small fifth percentile dummies to represent women is standard across the world.

According to a Discover Magazine Article – Why Are There No Crash Test Dummies That Represent Average Women? By Sophie Putka Feb 17, 2021

“New efforts to improve safety for women have been underway for years, but there’s still no female dummy that represents their bodies. A new line of crash-test dummies have been available for six to 10 years, but have yet to be officially adopted by all safety rating systems. They are truer to male and female human bodies in shape…”

Although the female version actually has a female-shaped pelvis bone and breasts is still 5th percentile in size.

What is being done about it?

New research is helping to increase calls overseas for female crash test dummies to be introduced into testing to account for the difference in female anatomy.

In Europe as part of the new EU rules, car makers will now have to have head-on collision protection – such as airbags and seatbelts – which 'does not disadvantage women and older people'.

This means that it will have to pass testing specifically linked to female and elderly persons anatomy.

In the UK there is now pressure on the government from road safety groups such as the AA, for them to introduce the same rules as Europe has. The UK AA have said that 'our best hope' was that British-based manufacturers such as Nissan, Toyota, BMW and Jaguar Land Rover may introduce the measures anyway due to the logistics of creating two production lines for two sets of regulations.

And finally, a female crash test dummy

In late 2022 it was confirmed that researchers at the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute in Linköping, led by Dr Astrid Linder, have developed the world’s first female crash test dummy.

At 162cm tall and weighing in at 62kg, the newly developed mannequin has the same dimensions as an average woman today.

The new female dummies could change how future cars, driver seats and other vehicle safety features are designed, making roads safer for female drivers.

Bringing equality to the road

Some car manufacturers have been using female test dummies, but the problem is it is not legislated worldwide to ensure consistent safety measures. 

It appears that better female models in crash tests are now being called for around the world, and some are on the way. Let’s hope that political pressure continues to lead to a change and to treat everyone equally.

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