Group pushes for gender equity in car safety testing

A woman is 17% more likely to die and 73% more likely to be seriously injured in a vehicle crash, according to a group that says the federal government is sanctioning gender discrimination in vehicle safety testing.

Every car on the road in the United States has had to meet design standards and has been safety-rated using crash test dummies that resemble a 1970s-era man in the driver’s seat.

A group of former members of Congress, gender equity and transportation leaders have sent a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, asking him to end gender discrimination that the transportation department perpetuates by only requiring male dummies in the driver seat for safety testing.

“Females are not just smaller versions of males. Due to differences in physiology and driver positioning, women’s and men’s bodies behave differently in a crash,” according to the letter to Buttigiec, sent by Verity Now, a coalition for vehicle equity rules in transportation.

Up-to-date technology for crash test dummies already exists, including models that more closely reflect women and children of different ages and sizes.

However, the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the agency that creates and oversees design regulations, as well as the voluntary five-star safety ratings system, only utilizes male dummies in the driver’s seat for testing.

“Government standards for vehicle crash testing are outdated and unequal, causing thousands of women to be needlessly killed and injured every year. This deadly gender bias in vehicle safety is unacceptable. It is time to stop studying this issue and fix it — now,” according to the letter.

The group’s letter to Buttigieg said relative to males of the same age, females in deadly crashes are 9.4% more likely to die as a result of a neck injury.

Differences are exacerbated when women become pregnant: “For instance, standard seat belts do not fit more than 60% of third-trimester pregnant women.”

“Those deaths are not created equal,” said Beth Brooke, co-chair of Verity Now, in a release. “While men are more likely to cause crashes, women are more likely to die in them, and it is time for USDOT to end the gender discrimination it sanctions in vehicle safety testing.”

The group said the Biden administration has placed a lot of importance on diversity, equity and inclusion. “It could be argued that our nation has never been this focused on undoing inequities than any other time in modern history.”

The letter calls for NHTSA to: “Require all tests use the most up-to-date male and female technology in the driver and passenger seat tests to ensure equitable testing which will help close the safety gap for women and other vulnerable groups.”

Bills called the FAIR Crash Tests Act have been introduced in the Senate and House to study how NHTSA is using crash test dummies.

The letter to Buttigieg ends: “Women and other vulnerable populations have waited long enough. It is time to stop studying this issue to death. Let this be the year we turn words into action, update vehicle crash test standards, and save those who should have been treated equally all along.”


Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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