Studies Find Women More Susceptible To Serious Injuries In Car Crashes


During crash testing, female dummies are seldom placed in the driver’s position, and sometimes they aren’t included in the testing process at all. Studies reveal that women’s bodies respond differently than men’s to injuries sustained in car accidents, often resulting in more severe injuries for women.

Main Points to Remember

  • While men generally experience more injuries in car accidents, women tend to suffer from more severe injuries, often leading to fatalities.
  • Women have a higher likelihood of sustaining pelvic and liver injuries, as well as experiencing shock.
  • Crash test dummies designed to represent females are considerably smaller than the typical size of women today.

The prevailing focus of car safety policy and research has long revolved around a standard model known as the “50th percentile male,” a dummy crafted in the 1970s standing at 5-foot-9 and weighing 171 pounds. However, while statistics show that more men succumb to car crashes annually, it’s crucial to note that women face a higher likelihood of fatality or serious injury when involved in similar accidents. In fact, females are 73 percent more prone to severe injuries in frontal car crashes of comparable intensity.

Recent findings, as elucidated in a study published on March 15 in Frontiers in Public Health, underscore the pervasive gender bias embedded within car design and safety measures. This bias potentially engenders disparate outcomes in terms of injury type and severity for men and women following car accidents. Such revelations call for a critical reevaluation of current safety standards to ensure equitable protection for all individuals on the road.

“We found that vehicle crash injury patterns and injury severity differ between men and women. We also show that women are arriving to the trauma bay with signs of shock more often than men, regardless of injury severity,” said the first author, Susan Cronn, RN, in a press release. She is a researcher and lead advanced surgical practice provider at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Christopher J. Wolff, MD, a member of the acute care surgery, trauma, and critical care team at Cleveland Clinic Akron General in Ohio, emphasized that these discoveries contribute to an expanding pool of evidence highlighting discrepancies in motor vehicle crash consequences based on biological sex.

“I think the root of this paper highlights a simple question: Are we doing everything possible to protect and care for all people equally?” Dr. Wolff, who was not part of the study, said.

Women Likely to Sustain More Pelvis and Liver Injuries

Researchers undertook an investigation aimed at delving deeper into the gender disparities observed in injuries and fatalities resulting from vehicle crashes. Their focus was to ascertain whether these differences were reflected in the clinical records of individuals admitted to emergency rooms following car accidents.

By scrutinizing clinical injury data, the researchers gained insight into the actual consequences of accidents, moving beyond mere risk estimations. This approach offered a distinct perspective, allowing them to assess the efficacy of car safety systems such as seat belts and airbags across male and female physiologies.

Drawing from a comprehensive dataset encompassing over 56,000 car crash victims, of which half were female, the investigators made several significant observations. While men exhibited a higher overall incidence of injuries, women were disproportionately affected by pelvic and liver injuries. This revelation underscores the nuanced nature of gender-specific considerations in automotive safety, highlighting potential areas for targeted improvement and intervention.

New Finding: ‘Normal’ Vital Signs May Differ for Men and Women

In a recent discovery with potentially far-reaching implications, researchers have unearthed a notable trend: women tend to surpass a shock index greater than 1.0 more frequently than their male counterparts. This phenomenon persists even among women who sustain fewer overall injuries or less severe traumas compared to men. The shock index, a critical metric, serves as an early indicator of hemorrhagic shock, often stemming from significant blood loss, and can also serve as an early predictor of mortality, as highlighted by the authors.

The shock index itself is a straightforward calculation derived from vital signs, serving as a valuable tool to gauge the severity of illness. According to Wolff, it plays a pivotal role in swiftly and accurately assessing the gravity of critical injuries, thus enabling prompt and targeted interventions crucial for saving lives.

These findings prompt intriguing speculation regarding the physiological differences between men and women. It’s conceivable that women’s bodies may exhibit lesser resilience in response to physiological shifts. As Cronn suggests, certain injuries might exert a more pronounced impact on female physiology, or women’s bodies might handle blood loss differently compared to their male counterparts. This raises compelling avenues for further exploration into the nuanced intricacies of gender-specific responses to traumatic events.

“It might also be that we have been assuming that normal vital signs are the same for everyone regardless of sex, and that we need to revisit our definition of normal,” she said.

Should subsequent studies corroborate these discoveries’ potential impact on patient care and outcomes, the researchers suggest that a sex-specific shock index could revolutionize how first responders and clinicians manage patients.

Wolff points out that while the shock index offers certain benefits, this study’s findings hint at the possibility of divergent responses to trauma and injury among biological females. Alternatively, it could indicate that the delineation between normal and abnormal results in this demographic is not as straightforward as previously assumed. “More clinical research efforts are needed to better answer this question,” he said.

‘Should We Be Appalled That Crash Test Dummy Research Does Not Have a Test for an Average-Size Female?’

Wolff suggests that the discoveries regarding how injuries vary based on biological sex contribute to the growing body of evidence revealing inequalities in motor vehicle crash consequences. He emphasizes the necessity for adjustments at the preventive health level to address these differences, acknowledging the multitude of variables that warrant further investigation.

“Should we be appalled that crash test dummy research does not have a test for an average-sized female?” asks Wolff.

Female Crash Test Dummies Sadly Outdated

The authors hope their results will help bring about adjustments and changes. “We hope that we can delineate the impact of sex on crash injury further, so that vehicle safety engineering can consider important male and female body differences in their design, and that they provide insight for legislation and regulations as needed for equity in car safety design,” said Cronn.

The crash test dummies currently sanctioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rely on data that dates back several decades. The male dummy, standing at 5’9″ and weighing 170 pounds, and the female dummies, measuring 4’11” and weighing between 97 and 108 pounds, are based on outdated percentiles.

Remarkably, the female dummy reflects only the smallest 5 percent of women according to standards set in the mid-1970s. Furthermore, these dummies fail to acknowledge any biological discrepancies; they are simply miniature versions of the male dummy.

In frontal collision examinations conducted by both the NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the 5th percentile female dummy is either sidelined or positioned in the passenger seat, despite women now constituting nearly half of all drivers in the United States.

These antiquated dummies also neglect to represent older individuals or those with higher body weights, as pointed out by experts. Although a new crash test dummy for females has been developed, its implementation in testing is still pending. Reports from last year’s budget deliberations hinted at insufficient funds allocated to place the female dummy in the driver’s seat.