Why Women Need More Protection in Cars
Is there really a difference in vehicle safety for women and men? Yes, and here is why.
For decades, when it comes to safety, cars have been designed with the male body in mind. At the federal safety testing laboratory, the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) uses a silicon-rubber-steel dummy as a human surrogate in its crash tests. This surrogate is designed to mimic a robust young man in his twenties or thirties, weighing 174 lbs. and standing 5’9”. A car is rated primarily by on how well the car protects this male stand-in. The dummy’s injuries – the number of bumps, bruises and bodily twists – determine the number of stars assigned to the car. If the dummy comes through unscathed, the car gets a higher the safety rating. To learn more about car safety testing in NCAP, see Dr. Hubele’s latest book.
In the most important crash tests, the frontal and side impact tests, this male dummy sits in the driver seat. A ‘female’ dummy sits in the passenger seat. This dummy is a scaled-down version of the male dummy. At a height of 4’11” and weight of 108 lbs., many critics complain that this dummy more closely resembles a 12-year old boy than the intended 5th percentile female.
Furthermore, there is only one test in which this smaller dummy is placed in the driver’s seat. This side pole test mimics a crash occurring when a car goes around a curve and slides sideways into a pole on the driver’s side. This may seem like good news. However, the results from this test are the least important of all the tests. In other words, if the ‘female’ dummy is hurt in the crash, it doesn’t count for much in assigning the number of safety stars to a car.
Why is this important?
Because when manufacturers are designing their vehicles to get higher star ratings, they are using the average male as their target. You have heard the expression, “designing to the test.” This is a problem because biologically women are different than men.
The bodies of women and men behave differently in a crash due to these biological differences. For example, women are typically shorter than men. As a result, they sit closer to the steering wheel. This translates into more severe chest and leg injuries in a crash.
Also, women’s necks are weaker. This is rather troublesome since the female head is nearly the same size and weight of a male’s. This female vulnerability leads to a higher incident of death due to a neck injury than a man.
The shape of women’s vertebra are different than men. This results in different responses to crash impulses. Furthermore, when women age, their bones become less dense and connective tissue becomes stiffer. Research has shown that older women experience severe neck and spine injuries at twice the rate of older men.
Whether by design or chance, some cars provide better protection for women. For example, they better protect women in side crashes, have better kneel and leg protection and better seat backs to protect a woman’s vertebra.
Auto Grades for Female Drivers
The scientists at The Auto Professor took all this into account when we created the safety rating system called Auto Grades. Our mission is to find the car that provides you with the best protection in a crash, based on the track record from past crashes.
Using actual fatal crash data, we looked at the driver fatality rates of vehicles by the characteristics of the driver. We grade the safety of the vehicle by how well it protected women versus men and older versus younger drivers. You, as the driver, can use the Auto Grade search engine to find our safety rating for nearly any vehicle.
Safest Vehicles for Female Drivers
To make your search a bit more convenient, we compiled lists of our top picks for female drivers:
- Safest Midsize SUVs for Women
- Safest Full Size SUVs for Women
- Safest Compact SUVs for Women
- Safest Midsize Sedans for Women
When you are considering buying a new vehicle, these lists offer you a good starting point. However, as you consider all your options, be sure to use the Auto Grade search engine to get the Auto Grade for any vehicle you are considering buying.