Women more likely than men to be hurt in car wreck

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Women more likely than men to be hurt in car wrecks?

This was an interesting article that ran in the Atlanta Journal Constitution and other newspapers.

Car crash injuries vary with age, gender
By VIRGINIA ANDERSON
Cox News Service

Sunday, January 07, 2007

ATLANTA — Age and gender play a major role in the severity of injuries in car crashes, a fact that might steer future safety features in automobiles, according to a study by Purdue University researchers.

The findings, published in the Journal of Safety Research, suggest that vehicles designed to adapt to specific drivers could lessen the severity of injuries, said co-author Fred Mannering, a professor of civil engineering at the West Lafayette, Ind., university.

For example, with existing sensor technology, cars could detect the height and weight of a driver and the car's safety system could adjust, Mannering said.

Safety-belt tension could be varied, and the way air bags deploy could be personalized.

"What it really means is that it's an opportunity for auto manufacturers to design cars more safely," Mannering said.

Most automakers already are installing sophisticated air-bag systems — called dual-stage air bags — that adjust to the severity of the crash and the size of the driver, said Joe Nolan, head of the Vehicle Research Center of the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, where crash testing is done.

"The [study] author's recommendation is, indeed, happening," Nolan said.

More stringent federal regulations, cheaper technology and buyer demand have moved car makers to quickly improve air-bag systems, Nolan said.

The study, a review of 32,085 Indiana vehicle crashes in 1999, also showed that age and gender play a role in the types of crashes people have.

The findings confirmed again that younger male drivers with passengers in the car were much more likely to suffer serious or fatal injuries when they are in a crash than older men or women of all age groups — a fact that parents, lawmakers and auto manufacturers should keep in mind, Mannering said.

Some findings were more surprising to the researchers.

For instance, driving a newer vehicle — less than five years old — actually increased the likelihood of fatality for older men by 216 percent.

A newer vehicle also increased the likelihood of fatality for young men, but by a lower percentage — 71 percent. The age of a vehicle did not have a significant effect on the likelihood of a fatality for middle-aged men.

Among women, safety belt usage in different age groups was a factor in the likelihood of injury, Mannering said.

Not using safety belts increased the likelihood of injury by 119 percent for young women, 164 percent for middle-aged women and 187 percent for older women.

The study did not examine the reasons for the differences. Mannering said he and co-author Samantha Islam could only speculate why the striking differences occurred.

Variations in reaction times among drivers could play a role, as well as the fit of safety belts, based on driver size, Mannering said.

The likelihood of injury from air-bag deployment may vary from age group to age group and between genders, he said.

Decreased bone density among older women may contribute to air-bag injuries, he speculated.

Even though the reasons may be unclear, Mannering said further study may reveal answers that may result in vehicle design changes.

"It's clear that that's the next direction," he said.

While that almost certainly would increase the cost of autos, Mannering said he believes those expenditures would be offset by saving money on lower insurance rates and medical bills for injuries sustained in crashes.

Virginia Anderson writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Journal-Constitution writer Clint Williams contributed to this article.