Study Finds Cars Designed to Protect Men, Not Women

Safety features have been improved substantially ever since Ralph Nader published the seminal work about consumer safety, “Unsafe at Any Speed”. Crumple zones, reinforced chassis, computerized warning systems, side-impact beams; safety has become job one for automakers across the world. But when it comes to the foundation of any safe car, air bags and seat belts, do they really consider the female driver?

A new study from the American Journal of Public Health says that may not be the case. The study argues that, due to the fact that they get in more car accidents, air bags and seat belts are designed primarily with men in mind, putting women at 47% more risk of seat belt injury in car crashes. This is especially problematic because women are getting into more and more car accidents.

It is worth noting that even a 47% more risk of injury is still a lot better than not wearing a seat belt and getting thrown from your car into a tree or slamming your head on a steering wheel, so, ladies, buckle your safety belts. But can this really be true? And if so, why did it happen and what can female drivers do about it?

Part of the problem, it seems, is the testing method. Women are shorter and weigh less than men, and they’ll sit in a car in a different way. So, if the car companies are testing their safety features solely with men in mind, that leads to problems. For example, the amount of force needed to hold down your average man in a crash is much more than the amount needed to hold your average woman in place during an accident.

For its part, the manufacturers have criticized the study. They’re fully aware of the problem and have been working on solutions for years. In fact, they state that since the study uses cars that can be more than twenty years old, it needs to be repeated with cars from 2000 and later, so that it can better reflect the rolling stock on the road.

But, say you’re in a pre-2000 car, or just really want to cover all the bases. How can you ensure that you’re safe?

– Start in the most basic way: make sure that your seat, steering wheel, and seatbelt are comfortably adjusted so you can wear them. A seat belt should start at your shoulder and come across your chest to your waist, and be comfortable when worn. Adjust the steering wheel and chair to best suit your driving position as well.

Drive safely. Hey, we know you are, but it never hurts to check yourself. Are you speeding? Ignoring signals? Using the phone when driving? Cutting down on risky behaviors cuts down on risk.

– Speak with your dealer about female-friendly safety options. For example, older cars may be able to have up-to-date, better designed air bags installed in them.

– If you think your car is putting you at risk, look into getting one with a higher safety rating, or that was manufactured after 2000.

But no matter what you do, remember, these are the technologies of last resort. The best way to avoid an accident: drive responsibly, and help others do the same.

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