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Vehicle Safety: Crash Test Dummies are Male…But What About Gauging Women’s Safety?

Car Accidents

Picture a crash test dummy in your head. What do you notice about its features? You might be picturing a pale head and torso with a featureless face. But, are you also picturing a male?

For decades, crash test dummies have been almost universally male. For females, this presents a problem. Male and female bodies have physical differences, and these differences impact the risks individuals face in the event of a vehicle collision. As discussed in a recent article published by The Washington Post:

“[M]ore than 40,000 Americans are projected to die in automobile crashes this year — a ‘crisis,’ according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Importantly, those deaths are not suffered equally. While men are more likely to cause crashes, women are more likely to die in them. When compared with a male crash victim[,] a woman is 17 percent more likely to die . . . and 73 percent more likely to be seriously injured in a vehicle crash.”

Lack of Female Crash Test Dummies Inherently Means More Risk for Female Drivers

As recently as 2019, Consumer Reports has reported that, “[a]n average adult female crash test dummy simply does not exist.” This, according to Consumer Reports, “has set the course for four decades’ worth of car safety design, with deadly consequences.”

This summation from Consumer Reports is consistent with the data reported in The Washington Post article quoted above. These data came from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the University of Virginia (UVA)—both highly reputable sources. Consumer Reports calls this an “urgent safety issue” while acknowledging that researchers have understood the different risks males and females face in car accidents “since at least the early 1980s.”

The NHTSA has identified increased safety risks for females in most areas of the body. These risks are attributable to biological differences between the male and female body. According to the NHTSA:

  • Female drivers face a 22.1 percent higher risk of head injuries than male drivers.
  • Female drivers face a 44.7 percent higher risk of neck injuries than male drivers.
  • Female drivers face a 22.6 percent higher risk of chest injuries than male drivers.
  • Female drivers face a 38.5 percent higher risk of abdominal injuries than male drivers.
  • Female drivers face a 58.2 percent higher risk of arm injuries than male drivers.
  • Female drivers face a 79.7 percent higher risk of leg injuries than male drivers.

The NHTSA Has Female Crash Test Dummies, But They Are Far From Representative

Today, the NHTSA has both male and female crash dummies in deployment—and this is good news. It means that automotive manufacturers are now considering the risks to all individuals who get behind the wheel. But, as the use of female crash test dummies remains a relatively new phenomenon, there are still tens of millions of vehicles on U.S. roads that have not been designed with female drivers’ safety in mind.

However, even here, it is clear that there is still work to be done. Currently, the NHTSA has two adult females in its “family” of crash test dummies. One of these is labeled as a “5th Percentile Adult Female” with a height of 4’11” and a weight of 108 pounds (as the NHTSA has two “50th Percentile” adult male dummies, it is not clear if the “5th Percentile” label is accurate or a typo). The other one is labeled as a “Small Adult Female” with a height of 4’11” and a weight of 97 pounds.

Clearly, these crash test dummies are not representative of all females. In fact, they are representative of only a very small portion of the United States’ female population (it is worth noting that the NHTSA’s male crash dummies are not particularly representative, either). Additionally, the NHTSA’s website indicates that the “5th Percentile Adult Female” dummy is only used for front impact and front airbag crash tests, and that the “Small Adult Female” dummy is only used for side impact and side airbag crash tests. As a result, not only are females not well-represented, but the full scope of possible collisions is not well-represented, either.

Even more importantly, according to Consumer Reports, the NHTSA’s female crash test dummies are, “just a scaled-down version of a male dummy.”

Automotive manufacturers may choose to conduct more tests with more crash test dummies—and many of them do. Even so, it is clear that we still have a long way to go before female drivers can feel confident knowing that their vehicles were designed with their personal safety risks in mind.

What Does All of This Mean for Female Car Accident Victims?

If you are a female who has been injured in a car accident, what does all of this mean for you? Clearly, auto manufacturers know—and have known—that exclusively using male crash test dummies puts female drivers at risk because it ignores females’ unique biological features. At this point, does this make ignoring female drivers’ unique injury risks rise to the level of negligence? It’s hard to see how it doesn’t.

In any case, female drivers (and passengers) who have been seriously injured in car accidents can—and should—seek just compensation. This includes just compensation for the cost of treating their physical injuries, as well as just compensation for their lost earnings, pain and suffering, and other economic and non-economic losses. The unfortunate reality is that no matter how much care automotive manufacturers put into designing their vehicles, driver negligence will always be a problem; and, when drivers make mistakes that lead to accidents, they (and their insurance companies) deserve to be held accountable.

Speak with a Car Accident Lawyer About Your Legal Rights

If you would like to know more about your legal rights after a serious car accident in Florida, we encourage you to schedule a free consultation at Searcy Denney. To speak with a lawyer at our offices in Tallahassee, Tampa, or West Palm Beach, please call 800-780-8607 or tell us how we can contact you online today.

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