Gender disparity can crop up in unexpected places, especially where men’s and women’s bodies are concerned. Whether it’s the temperature of air conditioning in an office setting or the dosage of prescription drugs, men’s bodies are typically used as the default model around which we build our society. This has serious implications on the design of car safety. Despite data that expresses improvements in car safety design, the safety of women still lags behind. According to a new study published by researchers at the University of Virginia. Women are much more likely to become seriously injured or die in a frontal collision than their male peers.
“After controlling for things like the severity of the collision, the stature of the occupant, the body mass index and the vehicle model year, females still carried 73% greater odds of sustaining a serious or fatal injury,” researcher Jason Forman told a Virginia Public Radio station earlier this month. He pointed out that while we have a good understanding of how crashes and safety equipment affect men, the female body is yet an overlooked mystery in crash tests. By the way, menopause was ruled out as one possible explanation of the discrepancy since the disparity in outcome was measurable well before women begin to develop osteoporosis.
Jezebel pointed out that “female” crash test dummies have only been used since the early 2000s — and at just under 5 feet tall and 110 pounds, that this dummy’s proportions are less like the average woman’s and more like what that woman might have measured at some point in pre-adolescence. In fact, the female dummy had previously been used to conduct crash tests that projected what might happen to a 12-year-old.
Though the height and weight of the lady dummy are laughably delusional about what the average woman measures, what is perhaps more critical to advancing passenger safety is the fact that women are not simply shorter, lighter versions of men. Forman pointed out the fact that women and men are built differently at the bio-mechanical level, and that this hasn’t been accounted for in either the construction of the dummies or the impact that safety equipment has on men’s versus women’s bodies. He offered the small bit of consolation that the government is finally (after 30 years of only testing “male” dummies) working to develop female dummies that more accurately depict what happens upon impact.
Lest we forget our elders, Forman’s research also found that older adults face different risks in frontal collisions than other passengers, being more prone to injuries of the sternum and chest. This, he explained, is due to the fact that older adults typically lose strength in their chests over the years and that the design of the cross-body seatbelt is not optimized to better distribute the force of a collision on weaker chests. It’s not feasible for every body type to be tested, and that’s not what this report is calling for; rather, the data has demonstrated a clear need to fill in the gaps of car safety so that women and older adults aren’t treated like secondhand passengers.