New cars are breaking down the gender disparity in car crash fatalities

Officials released a new report that said newer cars have better protections.

August 17, 2022, 1:37 PM

The newer the car, the safer it is for women drivers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a new report Tuesday.

While the NHTSA’s earlier report, published in 2013, found women to be at a much higher risk of fatality in car crashes compared to men, the 2022 report said that newer car technology, in line with strengthened regulations, has decreased the disparity.

According to the National Roadway Safety Strategy published by the Department of Transportation in February, officials said that although men represent more than 70% of drivers involved in fatal crashes, the motor vehicle fatality risk is still higher for a woman than for a man of the same age.

The NHTSA’s new report states the estimated difference in fatality risk estimates for female versus male front row occupants is 6.3% for car models from 2010-2020. Older vehicles, with model years 1960-2009, have a disparity almost three times that at 18.3%.

For vehicles within model years 2015-2020, the disparity closed even further, coming in at 2.9%, the report said.

PHOTO: Two car crash.
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Newer generations of cars are equipped with dual air bags, which significantly reduces the fatality risk for women in crashes, the NHTSA said. Newer cars also have more advanced seat belts, the agency said, which further reduces women's risk.

However, NHTSA’s Administrator, Steven Cliff, said that the department is still looking to improve the impact upon women who are in car crashes.

“Advancing equity, including across our transportation system, is one of the Biden-Harris Administration’s top priorities,” Cliff said in a press release. “While NHTSA’s new report shows significant declines in differences in crash outcomes between women and men, there is more work required to eliminate any disparities that remain.”

The NHTSA said a number of developments are in action to close the remaining gap, including the development of new biofidelic crash test dummies and of sophisticated computer modeling that can evaluate the effects of different types of crashes on a large range of human body types and sizes.

Further, the agency is researching the degree to which sex disparities in injuries exist in like crashes and the evaluation of new safety standards to eliminate all remaining disparities.

PHOTO: Car accident
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Historically, car crash tests used only male dummies, according to the NHTSA. The agency has used a 4-foot-11, 108-pound “female dummy” in some tests since 2003, the NHTSA said. However, this sizing is not accurate to the average woman’s body in America.

VERITY NOW, a coalition to end gender discrimination in vehicle safety testing, does not think the new report is as positive as NHTSA says, according to a new statement.

“This is an attempt by NHTSA to gloss over gender disparities in crash fatalities. Time and again, NHTSA creates inequitable safety standards for men and women, rewriting the rules or flat out ignoring their own data,” VERITY NOW Co-Chair and former Congresswoman Susan Molinari said in the statement.

"This report is a disgraceful attempt by NHTSA to deny women the same vehicle safety protections the government already provides to men. [Transportation] Secretary [Pete] Buttigieg should step up and fix this mess that NHTSA created," Molinari continued.

Beth Brooke, VERITY NOW co-chair and former global vice chair of public policy for Ernst & Young, said that the data in NHTSA's report is "cherry picked" and doesn't show real change on the issue. Instead, the organization's statement said the new report only examined gender disparities in crash fatalities, not gender disparities in injuries from car crashes.

According to the NHTSA, new federal funding through the major infrastructure bill passed in November will help accelerate research on this front to further close the gap in fatality rates for men and women in car crashes.