There are statistics for everything.
Analysts study data for nearly every factor related to car crashes—from time of day to age of the driver to types of roads—and even whether men or women are more likely to die in a crash.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute (IIHS) reports that many more men than women die in car or truck accidents each year. The Institute attributes this to factors that include the likelihood that men will engage in riskier behaviors like speeding or driving recklessly, failing to wear seat belts, or driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
Interestingly, though, females are more likely than males to be injured in crashes that are equally severe.
Why are women at higher risk for injuries and death from car crashes than men?
Summed up by FastCompany: “Men are more likely to cause crashes, but women are more likely to die in them.” In fact, a woman is 72% more likely to suffer injuries and 17% more like to die in a car crash than a man.
Vehicle safety tests don’t account for women’s bodies
One reason for this is that required vehicle safety tests are only performed using crash-test dummies designed like male bodies.
The National Highway Safety Transportation Administration (NHSTA) performs four tests on each vehicle that receives a safety rating.
These tests are:
- Frontal crash test
- Side barrier crash test
- Side pole crash test
- Rollover resistance test
The agency performs tests using a dummy modeled for a male driver. The tests often have a female-modeled dummy in the passenger seat. However, the “female dummy” is a scaled-down version of the male model. It does not account for differences in anatomy with respect to bone density, muscle structure, or abdominal and chest physiologies.
Men’s bodies and women’s bodies are different in more ways than the obvious and well-known distinctions. For instance, the average woman’s neck muscles have less column strength and muscle mass than that of the average man. For that reason, the current standards for seatbelts and airbags reduce 70% of whiplash in men. For women, the design of seat belts and airbags that are protective to men can actually cause injury or allow women to smash into the dashboard or steering wheel when it would be less likely for it to happen to a man.
Women tend to prefer different types of vehicles than men
Another reason why women tend to fare worse in crashes is because they tend to prefer lighter, smaller cars than men do. A study by Oxford University indicated that the weight of a vehicle is a main predictor of death in an accident. In other words, it’s been shown that heavier vehicles are safer for occupants than lighter ones.
Breaking down some confusing data, more males die in crashes than females. But women are more likely to be injured or die in crashes of equivalent severity.
In other words, men engage in riskier driving behavior that raises the incidence of crashes. But when all things are equal, a man is more likely to walk away from an accident unharmed than a woman is.
Why isn’t the auto industry making cars safer for females?
In 1980, crash test regulators requested a female dummy. In 1996, a group of automakers petitioned for one. In 2003, the NHTSA did put a female dummy in a test car.
But the body type of the dummy represented only 5% of women by standards at that time—in fact, the dummy would be more likely to mimic the body of a 12- or 13-year-old child.
Although the dummy will sometimes sit in the driver’s seat for side-impact testing, it otherwise rides as a passenger but never serves as a driver.
Consumer Reports says that although cars have become much more crashworthy in recent years and safety has improved dramatically, more can and should be done. Some regulators told Consumer Reports that they haven’t updated the testing rules because it’s expensive to develop new dummies and tests, too time-consuming, and that some regulators think it’s unnecessary.
Gender bias against women drivers
Women making driving mistakes is the butt of sitcom jokes and fodder for comedians—and has been such for decades.
But women aren’t fighting against this stereotype. In fact, research shows that they believe it. In a 2020 study by a group of Italian researchers, it was observed that women expected or self-reported that they drive or have driven poorly. The study participants were told either that the aim of the study was to evaluate gender differences or that it was to compare driving ability of younger people and older people. In both experiments, there was a control group of women who had no expectation of stereotypes.
The result was that researchers found that in both groups where women believed they were being observed vis-à-vis a stereotype, they performed worse on driving tasks than women who did not think they were stereotyped or compared to others to “test” driving capabilities.
In other words, when women believe that they are poor drivers, they drive poorly.
Can gender bias affect a car accident lawsuit?
Yes, it could.
If a woman is involved in a car accident, there could be a presumption by police at the scene; witnesses; the insurance adjuster; a jury; or even the woman, herself, that she bore more liability than was actually the case.
If the crash happens in an at-fault state or one that follows a comparative negligence rule, this can be the difference between recovering financial compensation and not.
In addition to people’s stereotypes and biases, the issues around cars being less safe for women can influence decisions about compensation, too. For instance, if a woman is rear-ended in a slow-speed collision, the adjuster might assume that she isn’t very hurt, or that she is exaggerating her pain or injuries and offer a lowball settlement. This could be based on their expectation for what type of injury would result from that accident—and it can be different for a man than it is for a woman because of differences in how their bodies respond to impact.
For all of these reasons, it’s crucial to have a lawyer who can advocate for you and your needs, and who understands that an insurance settlement or lawsuit needs to be assessed correctly in order to receive the compensation you deserve.