Women are more likely to suffer a serious injury in a car crash – even though men are involved in more road accidents – a report by a leading US safety authority has found.
Much of the heightened risk for female drivers was due to the types of cars they were driving rather than physical differences, according to the study.
The report by the USA’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety – released overnight – showed although men were involved in more fatal crashes than women, on a per-crash basis women were “20 to 28 percent more likely than men to be killed and 37 to 73 percent more likely to be seriously injured”.
“The numbers indicate that women more often drive smaller, lighter cars and that they’re more likely than men to be driving the struck vehicle in side-impact and front-into-rear crashes,” said Jessica Jermakian, IIHS vice president of vehicle research and one of the study’s authors.
The IIHS said the discrepancy in injury risk for men and women has prompted calls for new crash test dummies that “better reflect how women’s bodies react to the forces of collisions and other changes to crash-testing programs”.
Researchers analysed the injuries of men and women in thousands of police-reported tow-away front and side crashes in the USA from 1998 to 2015.
In front crashes, the report found women were “three times as likely to experience a moderate injury such as a broken bone or concussion, and twice as likely to suffer a serious (injury such as) a collapsed lung or traumatic brain injury”.
In side crashes, the odds of a moderate injury “were about equal for men and women” however women were “about 50 percent more likely to be seriously injured”.
One explanation for the higher injury rates for women could be vehicle choice, the report said.
“Men and women crashed in (people movers) and SUVs in about equal proportions,” the report found.
“However, around 70 percent of women crashed in cars, compared with about 60 percent of men, (while) more than 20 percent of men crashed in pick-ups compared with less than 5 percent of women.”
Men also tended to crash in heavier vehicles “which offer more protection in collisions,” the report said.
In a separate analysis of road fatality data in the USA, researchers found in two-vehicle front-to-rear and front-to-side crashes “men are more likely to be driving the striking vehicle”.
“Because the driver of the striking vehicle is at lower risk of injury than the struck vehicle in such crashes, this could also account for some of the differences in crash outcomes for men and women,” the report said.
There is limited Australian data on road fatality and injury rates for men versus women.
Last year, men represented approximately three out of every four road deaths in Australia, a long term statistical average. Figures for 2020 show 804 men died on Australian roads compared to 297 women.
However, it is unclear if the ratio is skewed because there are more men behind the wheel and/or driving longer distances than women.
A study by Monash University’s Accident Research Centre (MUARC) published on November 2020 – which investigated in detail 400 serious injury crashes in Victoria from 2014 to 2016 – found women had a higher risk of injury in certain types of crashes.
The MUARC report found that, of those surveyed, women accounted for the majority of hospital submissions from “cross path” crashes (57.5 per cent) and from “rear-end” accidents (53.6 per cent).
Women were over-represented in injuries following these two types of crashes given they only accounted for 44.2 per cent of those in the study. The majority of crash injuries investigated were men who accounted for 55.8 per cent of the study.
There was one type of crash in which men were more likely to be injured than women. In the MUARC study, men accounted for 66.8 per cent of hospital submissions following “lane departure” crashes, such as running off a road in a single vehicle crash.
The MUARC report didn’t reveal the types of cars men and women were driving at the time of their crash.
However, in general terms the report found drivers of all ages were more likely to be injured in older cars.
Occupants of newer cars had a 33 per cent injury rate, according to the MUARC study.
Occupants of vehicles with a three-star safety rating or lower had a 55 per cent injury rate according to the MUARC study which analysed car crash victims submitted to the Royal Melbourne Hospital or the Alfred Hospital from August 2014 to December 2016.
The MUARC report found there was “a strong relationship between vehicle year of manufacture and injury severity”.
For example, 17.2 per cent of occupants of newer vehicles (manufactured from 2014 to 2016) sustained severe injuries compared to 35 per cent of occupants of vehicles manufactured from 2011 to 2013, and 45.4 per cent of occupants of vehicles manufactured from 2006 to 2010.
“Vehicle age was an important factor associated with injury severity,” said the MUARC study. “Safety features, especially airbags, were lacking in older vehicles, while seat belt non-use also contributed to higher levels of injury. Nearly half of drivers were trapped in their vehicle due to the amount of vehicle crush, requiring extensive support from emergency services personnel.”
The study also highlighted the need for quick reactions and driver attention to avoid a crash or minimise the risk of injury.
“The study shows that in 45 per cent of crashes, the driver had no time to brake. For the 55 per cent of crashes where a driver braked, they did so for 1.3 seconds on average,” the report said.
“This result highlights the split-second nature of crashes and the need for safe vehicles and safe roads.”