It has been one of the biggest mysteries of road safety until now: why are women at greater risk in road accidents? Why are there more deaths and injuries among female drivers?
The answer comes, as outlined by La Repubblica, from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the large non-profit U.S. organization funded by insurance companies, which since 1959 has been trying to improve the safety of those who travel by car.
According to the research, women are much more likely than men to suffer serious injuries when involved in an accident, not because they are more fragile. But only because of the type of vehicles they drive and the particular circumstances of their accidents. In fact, the numbers indicate that women more often drive smaller, lighter cars and that by driving a lot in cities they are often victims of side impacts, which are the most dangerous.
Although men are involved in more fatal crashes than women, on a crash-by-crash basis, women are 20-28% more likely to be killed than men and 37-73% more likely to be seriously injured after adjusting speed and other factors.
"Our study shows that today's crash test programs have helped women as much as men," says Jessica Jermakian, IIHS vice president for vehicle research and one of the study's authors. "That said, we found that women are substantially more likely to suffer leg injuries, which will require further investigation."
According to La Repubblica, the study went so far as to make new crash test dummies that better reflect how women's bodies react to collision forces, and other changes to crash test programs. All of this because they were looking for greater fragility in the physical form. But no, in light of the IIHS study (conducted to analyze injuries to men and women in police-reported frontal and side crashes from 1998 to 2015) it turns out that men's and women's bodies have little to do with it.
Yet, La Republicca argued that the data seemed to say otherwise: in frontal crashes, they found that women were 3 times more likely to suffer a moderate injury such as a broken bone or concussion and twice as likely to suffer a severe one 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, while women were about 50% more likely to suffer a serious injury, but La Republicca also noted none of these results were statistically significant.
Because, by conducting tests with cars of the same type and with identical simulation of accident type, it was discovered that the differences actually disappeared. Other evidence in favour of the thesis of the American study, according to La Republica, is linked to the fact that the risk of serious and fatal injuries has recently decreased more for women than for men. This is because vehicles, even those often used in the city, the oldest and shabbiest, have become safer.
One explanation the study gives for the higher accident rates for women, in fact, is the choice of vehicle. Men and women crashed minivans and SUVs in nearly equal proportions. However, more than 20 percent of men crashed in pickup trucks, compared to less than 5 percent of women according to IIHS. Within vehicle classes, men also tended to crash in heavier vehicles, which offer more protection in the event of a collision.
In a separate analysis of data from the Federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System, La Republicca explained, the researchers also found that in two-vehicle front-to-back and front-to-side crashes, men were more likely to drive the rear-end vehicle. And because the driver of the striking vehicle is at lower risk of injury than the struck vehicle, this may also explain some of the differences in crash outcomes for men and women.