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Do car designs put women at greater risk of injury in a crash?

For decades, the vast majority of Detroit auto industry executives and engineers were male. During that time there may have also been more male drivers. But obviously times have changed. Despite this change, until recently auto crash tests still made exclusive use of crash test dummies that replicated full sized men. The National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA) did not begin using dummies that more accurately replicated a female car occupant until 2003.

Studies have shown that the average woman's body type makes them more susceptible to injuries in a car accident. The newest NHTSA crash test ratings now provide a separate score for women and for men. In many cases, cars that receive a high score for men receive a much lower score for women. Hopefully the highlighting of this disparity will prompt car manufacturers to design new cars in a way that is just as safe for women as it is for men.

Unfortunately, some of the tests provide crash test data only for a female as a passenger, not as a driver. The scores do provide data for a female driver involved in a side impact. This may be the accident type in which the difference in average body types is most likely to require a reconfiguration of safety precautions. Because an average woman is shorter, her car seat is likelier to be moved forward positioning her head directly in the middle of the side window in a side impact. To make an average sized woman safer the airbags may need to be redesigned to compensate for this variation.

Source: ABC News, "Female Crash Dummies Injured More: What Car Should Women Buy?" Alan Farnham, March 29, 2012

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