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Softening the Blow: Safer large vehicles could help close gap on gender-specific crash severity

Toronto, Ontario — A number of studies have come out over the past several years that bring to light the fact that women, specifically the “average” female body, has not been properly accounted for in the modern crash testing process—and the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety’s v-p of vehicle research is looking to change that.

In a post to the institute’s newsroom on Thursday, vehicle safety expert and IIHS executive Jessica Jermakian dove deep into the ways that the automotive crash testing landscape could be considered biased against women, and not simply due to an overall lack of test dummies that reflect an average female body.

At this point, it is an established fact that while men are more often killed in car accidents, in survivable cases, women actually come out with more severe injuries on average than men.

In frontal crashes, women are more than three times more likely to suffer a moderate injury, like a concussion or broken bone, and twice as likely to suffer more severe injuries like a collapsed lung or traumatic brain injury.

“But we wanted to know why women were being injured more frequently and whether it was something that we could measure in crash tests,” wrote Jermakian.

“How much of the discrepancy could be attributed to differences in the types of crashes men and women are involved in and the vehicles they drive? After all, injury risk differs based on the size of the vehicle and the circumstances of the crash, and these variables often favour men. Men tend to drive bigger, heavier vehicles than women, and they are more likely to be in the striking, rather than the struck, vehicle in a side or front-to-rear crash.”

In order to establish a common denominator between these driver habits, Jermakian examined a sample of  single-vehicle crashes and two-vehicle crashes, when the vehicles were a similar size and weight.

She found the rates of fatal head and chest injuries to be similar between men and women, though women were twice as vulnerable to moderate injuries, centred around the lower legs and feet.

“This study tells us that a big part of the problem comes down to differences in crash types and the interaction of different vehicle types and sizes. Those issues can be addressed, but not through crash testing,” said Jermakian.

“Instead, we should implement solutions available today to make striking vehicles less deadly to other road users. One such solution is automatic emergency braking, which has spread rapidly through the vehicle fleet thanks to a voluntary manufacturer commitment but is still absent from many of the heaviest passenger vehicles, including many popular pickups.”

In March of 2016, the IIHS challenged 20 OEMs operating in the U.S. to equip at least 95 percent of their model lineup with automatic emergency braking (AEB) technology.

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