Women may be less protected by car safety equipment

By Tom Nordlie • Published: March 30th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

If you’re a woman, you may have faced sex discrimination from other people. But you probably never expected to get it from car safety belts. As crazy as that sounds, a study published in the American Journal of Public Safety suggests it might be happening.

And the consequences could be serious.

In 2008, car accidents were responsible for 2.5 million injuries and almost 14,000 deaths in the United States. It’s generally believed that safety belts reduce the risk of being hurt in a car accident. But the study shows that this isn’t necessarily true.

Researchers looked at about 45,000 accidents involving drivers who wore seat belts. The data reveals that female drivers faced an almost 50 percent greater likelihood of serious injury than male drivers.

On average, the women were shorter and lighter than the men. And although the researchers couldn’t prove it, they believed that women suffered more injuries due to one simple fact … car safety equipment is typically designed and tested using crash-test dummies that represent medium-sized men.

That means bigger people get better protection.

There is some logic to this gender bias — male drivers are three times as likely to be involved in fatal motor vehicle accidents. So the auto industry may be trying to help the people facing the greatest danger.

But that’s cold comfort for women who’ve suffered injuries from ill-fitting safety belts. In a time when cars offer such amenities as heated seat cushions, it’s reasonable to ask that protective gear be adjustable to the size of the occupant.

That’s just common sense … and good business.

After all, if a customer can’t walk away from an accident, she may not be walking back to your dealership to buy another car.