News5 continues our work, with you, to drive change on Colorado's roads. While major advances in technology have helped to make new vehicles safer, we're working with crash experts who discovered there is a significant safety gap for women. A 2019 study from the University of Virginia found women wearing seatbelts in the front seat were 73% more likely to be seriously injured than men in a frontal crash. It's a safety gap that's putting our wives, mothers, and daughters at risk.
Crash tests designed back in the 1970s were revolutionary in understanding the affect of crashes on people at the point of impact. Over the years, the crash tests became more sophisticated as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration continued to collect data and increase safety standards, but at the University of Virginia researchers say they've identified an area of risk that must be addressed.
“Vehicles have improved dramatically and car companies and the federal government have made great improvements in the safety of vehicles in general and they should be commended for that, but simply because we made improvements doesn't mean our job is done,” said Dr. Jason Forman who led the crash research.
Dr. Forman and his team made this alarming discovery.
“Women were at greater risk of injury compared to men," said Dr. Forman. "That stood out to us.”
The study determined women were 73% more likely than men to be injured during a frontal crash while belted in the front seat. Women are also at a 79.7% higher risk than men for injuries to their legs. This comes on the heels of a federal study that found women belted-in while driving or in the passenger seat were 17% more likely to be killed.
Research continues to determine why there is such a safety gap between women and men. Many believe it starts with unequal representation in crash test dummies.
“Right now there are Crash Test Dummies that represent a midsize male and a large male and a very very small female 5th percentile weighing around a little over a hundred pounds, just under about 5 feet tall," said Dr. Forman. "What we don't have is a good model, a physical model, or human body computer model for a midsize female."
Dr. Emily Thomas is an automotive safety engineer for Consumer Reports.
"We know that women are not built the same way as men. We know that there are really important physiological and material differences in the way that our bodies are designed versus men's bodies and how they're going to respond differently in a crash, that needs to be taken into account,” said Dr. Thomas.
Dr. Thomas is pushing for major changes in crash testing.
“Really what we need is to be able to urge the regulators to put out a safety standard that's going to require a female dummies to be in the driver's seat during the crash testing and require that there is an average female dummy that's built that we can use in our safety designs.” Dr Thomas.
With so many women now driving on a daily basis, Dr. Thomas says a change is long overdue.
“When Crash Test Dummies were first designed you primarily had men that were driving the vehicles right?," said Dr. Thomas. "That's where the the greatest injury and greatest fatality risk was for men just because of how our society was.”
While bio-mechanic and automobile industry experts grapple with this safety concern, Dr. Thomas says on a local level drivers should make their voices heard because it could take an act of congress to require changes to how we crash test our cars in the United States.
"You can be reaching out to your state representatives and really trying to show how much this matters to you as a local consumer, as a person who drives around and is driving their family is around,” said Dr. Thomas.
Members of congress have sent a letter to the federal crash investigators requesting some changes, but nothing has happened at this point. Experts say the best advice to improve your safety is to always wear your seatbelt. Another area crash test experts hope to improve safety in the coming years is the back seat. With rideshare companies growing in popularity people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds are riding in the back seat more than ever before.
For more information on the University of Virginia's study: https://news.virginia.edu/content/study-new-cars-are-safer-women-most-likely-suffer-injury