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One of the most important parts of car safety is how well a vehicle holds up in a crash. So a car’s safety ratings can mean the difference between life and death. That said, a new IIHS study shows women are likelier to be killed or seriously injured in car crashes than men. Here’s why.

How the IIHS gauges car safety

Founded in 1959, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety provides research, ratings, and data to make driving safer for everyone. The IIHS is similar to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but there are key differences between the two organizations.

The biggest difference is that, while the NHTSA is a government agency with legal authority, the IIHS is not. Instead, the IIHS is a private organization that conducts its own car safety research. Regardless, many consumers consider IIHS and NHTSA safety ratings before purchasing a car because both organizations are reputable.

That said, aside from conducting crash tests, the IIHS also performs research studies that seek to answer questions about car safety. And according to a recent IIHS study, some real-world gender differences affect car safety. 

More men die in car crashes, but women are likelier to die

This can be a confusing distinction, but even though more men die annually from car crashes, women are significantly likelier to sustain injuries or die than men, the IIHS shows. The hard numbers reflect this. According to another IIHS study, about 10,000 women died in motor vehicle-related accidents, compared to 25,000 men, in 2019.

But when the IIHS compared men and women on a per-crash basis, it found that women were about 20 to 28 percent likelier to die in car accidents than men and about 37 to 73 percent likelier to sustain serious injuries. The IIHS wanted to know why, so it began digging deeper into the data.

Overall, the IIHS study revealed some interesting but not unexpected results. Though the institute will need to conduct more research, much of the study’s findings involve the kinds of cars involved in crashes and who’s crashing them.

Women drive smaller cars and are likelier to be struck

According to the IIHS, the two main causes of the gender difference in the likelihood of death and serious injury stemmed from car choices and women’s higher likelihood of being struck. The study shows that women tend to be in the cars that get struck. On the other hand, men are likelier driving the cars that do the striking.

Because the striking car is in a safer position than the car that’s getting struck, women are likelier to suffer serious injuries or deaths in those accidents. That means the men driving the striking car tend to fare better. On top of that, the types of cars men and women tend to drive also matter, the IIHS reports. 

Men are likelier to drive larger, heavier vehicles than women, and those bigger cars offer more protection in crashes than smaller cars. Another interesting thing the IIHS found was that women could be likelier to sustain leg injuries in car accidents. But the IIHS says this isn’t a “significant” finding and that more research will be needed.


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