Maloney Urges Feds To Take Action Following Report Showing Women Have 47% Higher Risk Of Serious Car-Crash Injuries

Nov 21, 2011
Press Release

New York, NY - U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens), former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, and New York State Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh (D-Manhattan) today urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to take action following a recent report in the American Journal of Public Health (attached) showing that women have a 47% greater chance of suffering severe injuries in car crashes than do men - even when wearing seat belts. 

The study suggests that vehicle-safety systems (such as seat belts and airbags), as currently designed and tested, do not offer adequate protection for smaller-framed drivers and passengers, and that a variety of factors could be at fault: vehicle safety systems may be optimized for men, since men are three times more likely to be involved in accidents than women; the design of seat belts and other restraints may not always take into account the proportions of women who may be shorter, smaller-framed, or more curvaceous; and it may simply be that women's bone structure and musculature make them more susceptible to injuries under the conditions of a car crash than men.

In a letter today to NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, Maloney urged federal regulators to evaluate the study and take action to make sure that the federal government is doing all it can to protect women from higher injury rates resulting from automobile accidents.  A copy of Maloney's letter is also attached.

"I'm asking national traffic-safety officials to study this shocking report and take action to protect women who are behind the wheel.  As the holiday travel season approaches, women need to know if they're at greater risk in an accident," Maloney said.  "Federal regulators need to investigate why women are experiencing higher rates of injury and come up with a plan to address the problem - but if they can't, I will pursue legislation to require them to make women's safety a priority.  The Federal government has done a great job of getting Americans to buckle up – but now it needs to buckle down when it comes to correcting any disparity between women and men in auto safety."

"Women shouldn't have to take their lives in their hands when they get behind a wheel just because car safety systems were designed with men in mind.  This highly disturbing report published in the American Journal of Public Health suggests women's lives and safety have taken a back seat when it comes to safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration needs to respond to this report's findings promptly.   I commend Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney for her concern about this problem," said Holtzman.

"We've made much progress over the years in protecting drivers and passengers from car crash injuries, but we must always be ready to reconsider our current practices and standards in light of the best available information," said Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh. "Representative Maloney is highlighting a critical weakness in our safety system, which disproportionately affects women, and I'm proud to join her in calling for it to be addressed promptly."


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                                                            November 20, 2011

Mr. David Strickland, Administrator
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
West Building
Washington, DC 20590

Dear Administrator Strickland:

I write regarding "Vulnerability of Female Drivers Involved in Motor Vehicle Crashes: An Analysis of US Population at Risk," a study published in the December 2011 edition of the American Journal of Public Health.  A copy of the study is enclosed.  The study's authors reached the astonishing and alarming conclusion that seat-belt-wearing women have a 47% higher risk of suffering serious injuries in car accidents than do seat-belt-wearing men.  I ask that you take action in response to this startling finding to make sure that the federal government is  doing all it can to protect women from higher injury rates resulting from automobile accidents.

The study's authors state that men are more likely to be involved in motor vehicle crashes than women, and that vehicle-safety devices may be optimized to protect males.  (The authors note, however, that the disparity in crash involvement between men and women is decreasing over time.)  The authors also state that "recent changes to the federal regulations include compliance testing using the small female dummy, but design modifications and performance testing of safety devices mostly rely on the midsized adult male dummy."  The authors go on to suggest that "the performance range of future advanced safety systems must be tailored specifically to provide adaptive protection focusing on the female occupant characteristics under all crash conditions."

Given the stakes involved for the millions of American women who drive or ride in motor vehicles every day, I would ask the following:  Are the conclusions reached by the study's authors borne out by NHTSA's own data or research?  If so, why are women less safe?  Is the higher incidence of injuries to women caused by inadequate seat-belt design or testing, or by airbags?  Are particular body types -whether male or female- more susceptible to car-crash injuries than others?  What steps is NHTSA taking to encourage the design and implementation of vehicle-safety devices that could offer better protection to women?  

In addition, is NHTSA considering requiring the use of small-female test dummies in performance tests of vehicle safety systems beyond that presently required for FMVSS 208 and the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP)?  Has the safety of American women improved with the implementation of the rules required by Public Law No. 105-178 (TEA-21) "to improve occupant protection for occupants of different sizes, belted and unbelted, under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208, while minimizing the risk to infants, children, and other occupants from injuries and deaths caused by air bags, by means that include advanced air bags"?

I thank you for your attention to these important concerns.  I know you are dedicated to the welfare of the driving public, and I am grateful for your efforts to improve safety on our nation's roads and highways.  

                                                            Sincerely,
                                                            

                                                            CAROLYN B. MALONEY
                                                            Member of Congress