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The Student Voice of North Allegheny Senior High School

The Uproar

The Student Voice of North Allegheny Senior High School

The Uproar

When “Buckle Up” Isn’t Enough

In car crashes, women are significantly more likely than men to suffer serious injury or death.
Ruby Morris
Advancements in the design of crash test dummies may make driving safer for women.

The likelihood of a woman dying in a car crash is 17% higher than that of a man in the same collision. Why? The culprit lies in the lack of adequate representation for women in car crash safety testing.

Women account for the majority of licensed drivers, and with 42,939 lives lost in 2021 due to car accidents, this presents a shocking reality.

Safety regulations have come a long way since the creation of the first automobile in 1886, which had virtually no safety features that are seen in modern cars.  

Historically, state legislatures only began to implement compulsory seat belt laws in the early 1960s, and initially, many motorists resisted these new regulations. It took over 30 years for the public to reach widespread acceptance of the seatbelt, an unquestioned safety measure now.

But while progress has inched along, issues in safety regulations persist. 

General Motors (GM) launched the first crash safety test in 1934. At the time, the cars were semi-unoccupied. Rather than pulling the car toward the barrier with a chain, the driver would hop out at the last moment. In these preliminary tests, the primary objective was to pinpoint weaknesses and improve safety, but no test dummies were used. 

Currently, the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) requires that passenger vehicles meet safety prerequisites determined in the New Car Assessment Program, which utilizes two test dummies for women: the Hybrid III and the SID-IIsD. 

The dimensions of the SID-IIsD are 4 ’11, 97 lbs, while the Hybrid III models are 4 ’11, 108 lbs. Compared to the CDC’s average measurements for adult women in the U.S., which is 170.8 lbs in weight and approximately 5′ 3″ in height, these models only represent the fifth percentile of adult women—a negligible amount.

In addition to the flawed sizing of these dummies, they do not adequately match the physiological differences between men and women. Instead, the dummies that are used to represent both children and women are scaled-down versions of male dummies. This gives rise to a number of issues, as even a small man has significantly different anatomy from a woman.

Women involved in car crashes are more likely to sustain serious injuries to the neck and back, and higher rates of whiplash occur.

A comprehensive report on Injury Vulnerability and Effectiveness of Occupant Protection Technologies for Older Occupants and Women by the U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA touched on this subject. It acknowledged these critical differences in anatomy: “The analyses will also demonstrate that young-adult women up to age approximately 35 have 25 to 30-percent higher fatality risk, given similar physical insults, than men of the same age.”

The report detailed that young women are more fragile than young men, though this trend reverses with age. Consequently, biased safety regulations pose risks for elderly populations, too.

Though these outdated methods are still employed, there is hope for achieving a more accurate representation of women in crash testing. Astrid Linder, Swedish Professor at Chalmers University and Research Director of Traffic Safety at VTI, has spent 20 years developing new models that account for the anatomical differences in gender in test dummies.

Her model, SET50F, includes features typical of female anatomy, such as narrower shoulders and wider hips. The models were part of an EU project called VIRTUAL, funded by Horizons 2020. While the Swedish Transport Agency must review this new model before it can be put into action, it has the potential to better prevent fatalities and injuries in car crashes for women.

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About the Contributor
Olivia Shubak, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Olivia is a senior and a Co-Editor-in-Chief for the Uproar this year. She's passionate about whatever she's writing and likes to explore a range of topics. Outside of the journalism room, she spends her time running Yoga Club and over the summer she traveled around Europe. Her favorite part of her time abroad was swimming in the Adriatic along the coast of Rovinj, Croatia.      

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