If a woman is involved in a car crash, she is 17 per cent more likely to die than a man in the same crash. In this episode, Caroline investigates why, and comes up with a campaign to fix crash testing
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In episode 4 of Visible Women, we investigated why women are so much more likely than men to be injured or die in a car crash – and what needs to happen to fix it.
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Maria Kuhn: It was beautiful. We walked around Dublin and it was gorgeous. And it was like, if you dreamt up a perfect Christmas day in Ireland, that’s pretty much what we got.
Caroline Criado Perez, narrating: Maria Kuhn is telling me about the worst day of her life.
Maria: We were having a lovely time. It was a perfect family vacation. Looking back at it, it’s almost like the lead up in a horror movie, when everyone’s having a great time and getting along, and everyone’s having fun before the crisis strikes.
Caroline, narrating: Maria’s family had flown all the way from Portland, Maine for their perfect Christmas in Ireland. On boxing day, Maria and her mum, along with her dad, brother, and sister drove in their hire car from Dublin to Castledonovan in the south of Ireland. It was 11:45 in the morning, and it was pouring with rain.
Maria: I remember I was actually looking down and I heard my mom scream and I looked up and just saw headlights coming through the windshield.
Caroline, narrating: A car coming towards them was rounding the corner on the wrong side of the road.
Maria: And you don’t really have time to be scared. It just, as soon as you see it, it’s over.
Caroline, narrating: The car hit Maria and her family head on.
Maria: So I remember the headlights bearing down on us and I turned to my right and saw my mom go backwards into the seat and then go forward, and there’s instantly the powder from the airbags. And I remember she was covered in that white powder, and the back of her hair was flattened. A couple minutes later, my sister and I were holding her and she actually lost consciousness in our arms, but her eyes were open. And so we thought that we lost her.
Caroline, narrating: I’m Caroline Criado Perez, and this is Visible Women, my new weekly podcast from Tortoise, investigating how we fix a world designed for men. This week I’m going deep on one of the most glaring injustices I uncovered while writing my book, Invisible Women – the simple fact that if a woman is involved in a car crash, she is 17 per cent more likely to die, and 73 per cent more likely to be injured than a man in the same crash. This translates to over 1,300 preventable deaths and over 400,000 preventable injuries in women every year in the US alone.
This sex disparity, the fact that women are so vastly more likely than men to be seriously injured or die in a car crash, is precisely what happened to Maria’s family. Maria and her mother, who were sitting in the back seats, both suffered extremely serious injuries, but her father and her brother? They walked away from the crash without a scratch.
Maria: Literally not even a hair on their head. They were…not a single bruise. They were totally fine.
Caroline, narrating: This was despite the fact that they were in the front seats, which Maria tells me are the most dangerous seats to be in. So how had the men escaped without even a bruise, while Maria and her mother both ended up in hospital? I wanted to find out how we could fix this deadly injustice and to do that, I had to go back to the 1950s to meet a different family altogether – a family of dummies.
Chris O’Connor: … It’s really, ironically, 70 years ago this year, 1952. It really developed under the vision of Sam Alderson. And Alderson research lab is where it started. And it was around protecting pilots who were ejecting out of aeroplanes.
Caroline, narrating: Chris has agreed to give me a, well, crash course in the history of crash test dummies. These are the human-shaped instruments that are used in car safety testing, to figure out what impact crashes have on the human body. The idea is that the information collected from them can be used to make cars safer.
As well as being an engineer, Chris is also the president and CEO of the Humanetics Group, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of car crash test dummies. Chris tells me that when the first dummies were developed in America in the early 1950s, they were basically just weighted mannequins.
Chris: And it really wasn’t until the late 1970s that we have had a more, I’ll call it a modern version of the crash test dummy, which really started with the Hybrid I, then Hybrid II and became the Hybrid III. And that’s really the workhorse now that’s used around the world.
Caroline, narrating: The Hybrid III became known as the Hybrid III 50M. 50 for 50th percentile, as in average, and M for male. He was five foot nine inches tall, and weighed 77 kilograms.
Chris: And the first family of dummies included a 50th percentile and a fifth percentile, so the smallest male, and then the largest male, which was the 95th percentile.
Caroline, narrating: Yes, you heard that right. This family of dummies was made up exclusively of men.
Chris: And then there was a modification made to the fifth, to attempt to try to make it female-like if you will, but just really minor changes. It wasn’t designed as a female, it was designed as a male that was smaller. It actually wears a suit that gives it the appearance of a woman with breasts, but really no sensors in that. So it was really a very, very minor change.
Caroline, narrating: So basically what we’re talking about here, is a tiny man-dummy with an approximation of boobs that serve no function in the test in any way. And in any case, we weren’t even using this tiny-man-with-boobs in most of the tests. In fact, we still don’t.
Chris: If you look at the tests, primarily most new car assessment programmes, NCAPs, from around the world are using the male in the driver’s seat.
Caroline, narrating: Because, of course, women famously don’t drive. And by the way, in case you’re wondering, yes, there were slightly more male than female drivers back in the seventies, but not really that much more. According to statistics from the US Department of Transport, in 1970 there were 1.3 male drivers for every female driver. Since 2005 women have made up the majority of licensed drivers in the US. Over here in the UK, women make up half of all licensed drivers. Plus, let’s not forget, even when women aren’t driving, they’re often in cars as the passenger. So really there’s never been an excuse for excluding half the population from safety testing.
Chris: The majority of tests are predominantly around the male 50th percentile.
Caroline, narrating: Let’s just take a step back for a second and discuss how car safety tests work, because it’s a bit confusing. First of all, there are various different types of tests, with different dummies to match. The dummies we’re talking about here with Chris, the Hybrid IIIs, those are what are called frontal impact dummies. They’re used in tests of head-on collisions, like the one Maria was involved in. There are also side-impact dummies which measure accidents that approach from the side of the car. As with frontal impact, dummies, the so-called female dummy that’s used in these tests, is just a scaled-down version of the average male dummy. And this one doesn’t even have any fake boobs. And by the way, real-life crash data from the US and the UK suggests that side impact crashes are the kinds of crashes that women are most likely to be involved in. Then there’s the rear-impact tests. Currently only one physical rear-impact dummy exists, the BioRID, which represents the average man. So in rear impact tests, there isn’t even a tiny man with boobs being used to represent the female half of the population.
Got all that? Good, because there’s more.
When we talk about crash tests, there are actually two strands you need to know about. There are the regulatory tests, which manufacturers have to pass if they want to be able to sell their cars in a specific country, and then there are the NCAP consumer tests, which is what gives cars their safety rating. A car can get a maximum of five stars, like a movie or a good restaurant. All of these tests, both of the regulatory and the consumer variety focus almost exclusively on the average male body. So is it any wonder that women fare so much worse in car crashes?
Not long before we started working on this episode, I was contacted by Dr. Tim Nutbeam, who splits his time between the emergency department at University Hospitals Plymouth, and responding to emergencies with the Devon Air Ambulance.
Tim Nutbeam: Over many years of delivering pre-hospital care, so going out in a car or a helicopter and visiting the scene of accidents, I noticed that a seemingly large number of people were being trapped in their vehicles following a motor vehicle collision, and that their outcomes seemed to be poorer than those patients who weren’t trapped.
Caroline, narrating: In fact, people who become trapped in their car following a crash are more likely to die. Tim wanted to look into this more closely, and, he told me, having read my book, he decided to sex disaggregate his data. Go, Tim! And in fact, this decision by Tim is a very good example of why you should always, always sex disaggregate your data. Because Tim and his team did indeed find a difference. In fact, they found a substantial difference. It turns out that women are almost twice as likely as men to become trapped in their cars, following a crash. They also found that men and women suffer from different injury patterns. For example, women were more likely than men to experience injuries to their pelvis and to their spine.
Tim: So that shows a real and surprising difference, which might have implications for how we care for these patients, but also how we stop these incidents happening in the first place, through road design or car utilisation or safety systems.
Caroline, narrating: Tim’s findings led him on to discover an even more shocking sex disparity, which we don’t have time to go into here, but we’ve included it as an extra bonus episode, available to Tortoise Plus subscribers on Apple, and Tortoise members. That episode will be out on Friday.
I’m really glad Tim’s work exists. I regularly come across people who work in this industry, who try to tell me that this really isn’t a big deal. This data helps to prove them wrong. But I’m also angry because this is such a huge disparity. And isn’t this exactly the kind of thing that we could and should be picking up at the test stage? The thing that’s so infuriating about all this, says Chris, is that there’s something we could be doing right now to make cars safer for women.
Chris: Well, Humanetics is being as proactive as we can. Now we can’t change regulation, we can’t change government bodies, but what Humanetics is focused on is creating tools. So besides just having the most advanced crash test dummy now in the Thor 50th, we actually have a Thor fifth, which is a female.
Caroline, narrating: A few years ago, Humanetics started to develop a new set of dummies called the Thor dummies. So far, the family consists of the Thor 50M, an average male, and the Thor 5F, a tiny female. She’s about the same height as Kylie Minogue. Chris tells me that the Thor family of dummies are better than their Hybrid III counterparts, because they have more sensors, so they collect more data. And the female version of this dummy has been created using data from actual female bodies.
Chris: And it was designed specifically as a female, addressing female injuries, which were different from men. So lower leg injuries are a good example, 79 per cent more likely in a woman. You have higher abdomen injuries, and there’s a lot of reasons why these take place. So we designed a crash test dummy that has a female pelvis instead of a male pelvis, which is important for designing a seatbelt. We have a much more sophisticated abdomen. So we have sensors in the abdomen, and you can see different sensors there that would reflect internal injuries as well, which aid in designing a safer car for a woman.
Caroline, narrating: Chris says that the Thor 5F could quickly make a difference to how cars are designed, but it’s not yet being used in any tests.
Chris: But by having two, a male and a female, you can start to promote what’s available today, which is adaptive restraints.
Caroline, narrating: Adaptive restraints means things like seat belts, airbags, seats, the steering wheel, really any part of the car that could automatically move in the event of a crash, to put the occupant in the best position to withstand the impending impact as safely as possible. At the moment, these safety tools are set up to protect the average male body.
Chris: And right now nobody’s going to put in an adaptive restraint, because they only have to meet one body size. And because that’s only a sample of one, being the male, predominantly in most tests, then you’re going to try to maximise the results for that body type. If you have two body types in all tests, the male and the female, then you can actually say, “Okay, now I need to have some adaptability in the restraint system, because I have to deal with more than one body size. So maybe I’m going to do something different for the female versus the male.”
Caroline, narrating: Okay, so we have this tool, the Thor 5F. And Chris says it could make a big difference to female safety. And to be clear, while it isn’t mandated for use in any of the tests, there’s nothing stopping car manufacturers from using it when they’re designing their cars. So the question is, if car manufacturers could make cars safer for women, why aren’t they?
I tried calling the manufacturers of the UK’s top selling cars to ask them about how they account for female bodies in their safety design.
Voicemail message: Hello, you’ve reached the voicemail of Tom Lynch at Volvo Car UK. Feel free…
Voicemail message: Hello, you’re through to….
Caroline: Should I leave a message? I was wondering if there was someone I could talk to about how car safety tests are done at BMW….
Caroline, narrating: I was hitting a lot of answer phones, but finally I did get through to someone at Ford.
Caroline: I’m researching a podcast episode about car safety….
Caroline, narrating: He asked me to email through the details of my questions, which we did, but after that promising start, the trail went cold. Ford never replied. And no one else called me back either, which perhaps shouldn’t surprise me, because the truth is they don’t really account for female bodies in their design, because they don’t have to.
Chris: Unfortunately there’s a lot of the physical testing that they’re not doing, and the reason they’re not doing it is because it’s not mandated, it’s not a requirement.
Caroline, narrating: So, okay, if it’s the requirements that are the problem, why don’t we change them? Why don’t we draw up a new set of standards?
Chris: Well, that could be a whole ‘nother show on its own. And you should probably ask a lot smarter people than me, but the reality is, it’s obviously a very political environment.
Caroline, narrating: Chris says that the problem is a lack of political will, not to mention the huge amounts of money being spent by car companies to lobby politicians. Money which perhaps they could be spending instead on making their cars safer for women. But, what do I know?
Chris: What we have to do is act. And we have a lack of action, and the action is being hesitated because of either political pressure or some other reasons, or a lack of willpower to say, “We need to do something different.”
Caroline, narrating: Chris is talking specifically about the situation in the US, but what about the rest of the world? Well, Europe is actually passing some pretty exciting new legislation, but thanks to Brexit, it’s very unclear where the UK stands on this. I needed to talk to Patricia, my trustee data sidekick.
Caroline: …passing legislation that for the first time is going to say that car manufacturers must ensure that women are as safe in the event of a car crash as men, which is a total game changer, it’s huge-
Patricia: That is incredible.
Caroline: But as a result of Brexit, the UK has so far said, they’re not going to be following this. So I would like us to speak to the Department for Transport to find out, are they really going to deny British women the right to be as safe in the car as British men?
Caroline, narrating: With anything involving lots of numbers and regulations and political wrangling, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that what we’re talking about here is people’s lives. So I want to take you back to that stuff Chris was saying about adaptive restraints, about how car manufacturers could be making things like seat belts and airbags adaptable, but they aren’t, because the restraints they have now work fine in the current tests.
Maria: By the time we were in the ER waiting room, I was saying, “Yes, something is really wrong.” And then finally, I got pain medication and one nurse was like, “You know what? We should probably just take a CT scan.” And I was so bent over, I couldn’t stand up at all. And I started throwing up again. And they were like, “Okay, something’s wrong.” And I took a CT scan and they saw that there were basically leaking air bubbles all over my abdomen. My small intestine had ruptured and it was then leaking blood, acid and air into the rest of my abdomen.
Caroline: That sounds really dangerous.
Maria: Yeah, it is very dangerous. So if I had been sent home and that nurse hadn’t decided to take a CT scan, people do die of that injury, in not a very long time.
Caroline, narrating: This life-threatening injury that Maria suffered? It was caused by her seatbelt.
Maria: Typically, seatbelts are designed to catch the hip bones, which can withstand the force of stopping the body’s forward momentum. Instead, on my hip bones, the seatbelt slid up and instead caught my stomach. And so it exerted all of the crash’s force on my stomach, which pinned my small intestine against my spine, and ruptured it.
Caroline: Do you have any idea how or why that happened? Do you know if that’s like a sex difference issue?
Maria: It is.
Maria: It is. I’ve spoken with several engineers on this issue, like car safety engineers. And they say, because the female pelvis, as you’ve discussed in several pieces, is just differently shaped, instead of catching hip bones, as it’s designed to, it just slides right over. So it’s designed to fit the male pelvis. And of course, that therefore doesn’t fit the female.
Caroline, narrating: The seatbelt, the thing that we’re all told to wear, the thing that was meant to be protecting Maria, had instead nearly killed her. Because seatbelts are not currently tested on a female pelvis. So does this mean that Maria’s injuries could have been avoided if the Thor 5F with its female pelvis had been introduced into testing before her crash? Well, maybe.
Caroline: So, I will kick off. Can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?
Astrid Linder: My name is Astrid Linder. I’m a professor of traffic safety at the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute
Caroline, narrating: You may remember Astrid from my book, Invisible Women. I interviewed her about her work in this area. She says the fifth percentile female is an extremely important tool in our armoury, but it doesn’t make up for the lack of an average female dummy.
Astrid: The fifth percentile female doesn’t represent the female part of the population. Neither does the 95th male represent the male part of the population. That’s not their purpose. So to represent the female and male population, then we have the average male, and we missed until now the average female.
Caroline, narrating: Astrid has been researching car crash safety for a very long time.
Astrid: Being a PhD student, I also did an extensive literature review. And then I saw from the crash statistics, back from the 60s and onwards, that females were at a considerably higher risk of these injuries than males. And this was 1999. And then I thought, “Okay, so the next logical step would be to have a dummy representing the part of the population that is of highest risk.”
Caroline: So you basically decided we needed a female dummy back in the nineties?
Caroline, narrating: Actually, Astrid was not the first person to decide we needed an average female dummy.
Astrid: The basis for the dummy family is from Schneider et al, in 1983. And it’s a small female, it’s an average male, it’s an average female, and it’s a large male. When that data was taken further, the average female didn’t make it.
Caroline, narrating: Astrid says the average female was dropped off the list for further development because of budget cuts. So we’ve been left with the average man, the large man, and the tiny man with boobs.
Thankfully, women do have engineers like Astrid fighting our corner. And for the past two decades, she has been cobbling together bits and pieces of funding from various sources to do the work to create the dummy she believes we need, a dummy that represents the average female body. In 2012, that work finally came to fruition when Astrid unveiled a prototype of the world’s first average female dummy to be used in rear impact tests. She called her Eva.
Astrid: So the EvaRID is this average female that we have alongside the average male, as a computer model.
Caroline, narrating: Astrid’s dummy, the EvaRID, is a Rear Impact Dummy. That’s what the RID at the end of her name stands for. And as you may remember, we currently only have an average male dummy for the rear impact tests. To state the obvious, this really matters. Rear impacts are one of the most common types of car crash and their effects can be particularly debilitating for women. That’s because women are more likely to suffer from long term or even permanent neck and spine damage. And yes, the design of the car can either mitigate or even exacerbate that risk.
Astrid Linder, speaking at TEDxKTHWomen: In the picture here, you see both dummies seated in the same seat, and you can see…
Caroline, narrating: This is from a TED talk Astrid gave a few years ago.
Astrid, speaking at TEDxKTHWomen … in comparison to the head restraint…
Caroline, narrating: She’s talking about some of the seat safety systems that exist for rear impact crashes. One of the systems called ‘The active head restraints system’ automatically brings the headrest forward in the event of a crash. This made things a lot better for men whose risk of neck injuries was substantially reduced. Which would be great, except real-life crash data reveals that the active head restraint system had actually made things worse for women. This is exactly the kind of problem that could be picked up at the crash testing stage, if only we bothered to use a female dummy for these tests. Instead, explains Astrid, we have to wait for decades worth of actual crashes involving real women’s bodies to collect the data we need – the data that for men we’re collecting before any real life men get into a car.
Astrid: You need numbers. Today, and this is the limitation, today there is no way for us to assess that in new products. And therefore you cannot give that information to the consumers initially. Now you have to trust the different car manufacturers. And if they say, “Yeah, we have done something really, really good.” And you say, “Mm, yeah, I believe that…”
Caroline, narrating: On the subject of trusting car manufacturers, let’s briefly think back to Dieselgate. This was when Volkswagen was found to have been gaming emissions tests to make their figures better. Do you really trust car manufacturers to be honest about how great their cars are for women?
If we’re really going to fix this problem, it’s going to have to come through rules that all car manufacturers are going to have to prove that they followed. And on that note, I wondered how Patricia was getting on with the Department for Transport.
Patricia: Last time we spoke, we were talking about the EU safety regulations that have come in which explicitly say car models should include frontal impact protection which does not disadvantage women and older people. It hasn’t been taken on by the UK because of Brexit.
Patricia: So I got in touch with them to say, “Why haven’t you come up with an alternative solution at least.”
Patricia: And I’ve had a response.
Patricia: And the response is, “We’re always looking at ways to boost road safety and are currently holding trials of vehicle safety technology, specifically using test dummies better representing women. Any decisions on regulation change will be based on evidence from our rigorous tests.”
Caroline: Is that the full answer?
Patricia: That’s it, yeah.
Caroline: But they don’t need to hold trials.
Patricia: Yeah, exactly.
Caroline: We already know. What new evidence do you think is needed when the evidence is already very clear that women are more likely to die and be seriously injured? And also, they didn’t answer your question. Your question is, “Why are you not adopting this regulation?”
Patricia: Yeah. That’s the part I find hardest. And it happens often, that you send a list of questions and you get a statement back.
Caroline, narrating: So, we can’t leave this up to car manufacturers to fix. And apparently we can’t leave it up to governments, either. So what can we do? After her crash, Maria had to take a semester off college. So with some time on her hands, she got a job working with a US senator. And while she was there, she got access to some interesting documents.
Maria: Essentially, I found that the government has known, since the 1980s, that women are way more likely to be injured and killed in crashes than men.
Caroline: And how did you feel when you were doing this research and finding this out?
Maria: Angry, honestly. Angry and so sad that so many lives are lost. And in some ways shocked that no one was talking about this and that no one was fighting this, but also like, “Of course. Of course women are excluded from the most basic crash testing standards, and have been historically, and were being killed because of it.”
Caroline, narrating: Maria wanted to take her anger and turn it into action. She decided to tell the Senator she was working with.
Maria: And he was like, “Oh my gosh. That’s terrible. We need to do something about it.” And then the next day we got sent home for COVID.
Caroline, narrating: Still before long, Maria was back on it.
Maria: At the time, I was the only person I knew working on it. And so it was a lonely endeavour, because everyone you tell about it is like, “Oh my gosh, that’s terrible. We need to do something about it.” And then just nothing gets done.
So I began writing and I wrote about it in my local paper in April, 2021, the Portland Press Herald from Portland, Maine. And they published just like a little letter to the editor. And then I wrote some more, and I came into contact with other women who I found online, who had been in crashes and who were also really angry. And so I began to team up with them and together we published more and we started to figure out how, together, we could make a difference.
Caroline, narrating: As you can imagine, I love this. Nothing makes me happier than women getting angry and then getting organised.
Maria: Basically what we are trying to do is to require an accurate female dummy in the driver’s seat and all seats in American crash safety testing. And to do that using a female dummy who looks like the average American woman.
Caroline: But for now, she’s keen to get the Thor 5F implemented.
Maria: I think that is a great first step. I actually toured the factories in which the Thor fifth is manufactured. And I can tell you when I looked at the current female dummies, the Hybrid III and the Thor fifth, the Thor fifth was astronomically better. So although it is still the fifth percentile, which is not great, I can tell you firsthand, the Hybrid III female, which is the current dummy, doesn’t have any sensors in the abdomen. And you know, look at me, I’m exactly what happens when you don’t have sensors in the abdomen of the female dummy. And the Thor fifth is loaded up with, I think, hundreds or thousands of these sensors.
Caroline: Did you see the Thor fifth pelvis?
Maria: Yeah, I did. I did. It was awesome, I think somewhere I have pictures…
Caroline: I love that Maria gets as excited as I do about the Thor 5F pelvis, but I also find it kind of heartbreaking. She’s so excited about this thing that should just go without saying, that for the male of the species does go without saying. And yet, when she speaks to legislators, she gets told that her female pelvis is too expensive.
Maria: In that meeting, I asked very specifically why female dummies are not used in the driver’s seat of crash tests. And they said, and this is a direct quote, “It’s just a matter of economics.” And so to me, that means that our own government is finding things that are more valuable to them than women’s lives.
Caroline, narrating: On that subject of economics, Maria tells me that VERITY NOW, that’s a coalition that’s campaigning for better car safety for women in the US, has calculated that it would cost $1 per car to improve car safety for women. $1, is that really too high a price for women’s lives? Like Chris, Maria sees the hands of industry lobbyists behind this frankly bizarre reluctance to fix their cars, but she also thinks the government is reluctant out of embarrassment.
Maria: I think that once that dummy is implemented, there will have to be some kind of reckoning that the government has known for 40 years, that women are endangered in cars. And they’ll have to admit that, I guess, that at least 40,000 women have been killed.
Caroline, narrating: The real kicker, says Maria, is that there are other areas of car safety that the US Department of Transportation seems only too happy to improve.
Maria: The DOT has released several plans to improve the new car assessment programme. And they’ve included the male version of that advanced dummy.
Caroline, narrating: What is it about women that makes legislators so reluctant to protect us? I feel like the only way anything is going to get any better here, is for women to demand change. But in order for that to happen, women first of all need to know that cars aren’t as safe for them as they are for men. What we need is, drum roll please, some sex-disaggregated data.
Patricia: …consider how they present that data.
Caroline: Yeah so I think, if you’re buying a car as a woman, you have a right to know whether or not it’s going to be safe for you, and whether or not it’s been tested to a standard – standard!
Caroline: That will demonstrate that it is safe for you. And so what I think would be a very nice, quick and easy fix that isn’t going to cost anyone any money until women start realising that cars haven’t been tested on them and start to revolt en masse, which is just some transparency. So at the moment the five star ratings just say, “This car is five stars.” It does not, however, tell you, “This is five stars based on an average male dummy in the driver’s seat, and no one else.” So what I would like to get from Euro NCAP is a commitment that they will give that information, along with the star rating. Because at the moment, most women do not know that cars are not being tested to be safe for them.
And this feels like a really important first step of getting that information out there and making it impossible for the situation to continue, because this is how the situation continues. It continues, because people don’t know that it’s happening.
Patricia: Yeah, that’s a really good idea. I’ll reach out to them.
Caroline, narrating: Maria isn’t sitting around waiting for legislators to fix this. She’s involved in a really important data collection project, which uses donated female corpses for car crash testing.
Maria: To see exactly how the internal organs are affected.
Caroline, narrating: This might not sound very pleasant, but it’s hugely important, because at the moment, most of the data we have from this kind of testing has been collected, not only in men, but in men who have been specially chosen because their body matches that of the already-existing average male dummy. Like with the Sheffield head from episode one, we’ve been reverse-engineering the whole thing. It makes no sense. In fact, nothing about car crash testing makes any sense. What we desperately need here is some clarity. Unsurprisingly, Patricia didn’t really get anywhere with the Department for Transport, but she did get a pretty thorough reply from Euro NCAP.
Patricia: So have you had a chance to go over it?
Caroline: Yes, I have. And I agree, it is a nice, meaty response. I have to say my pleasure with it possibly ends there. I mean, they immediately put my back up with their first link that they give you. “We are, of course, very much aware about the study of female injury risks that you refer to. There have been other more recent studies, for example, this one from IIHS that place these results in a broader context.” I’ve come across this study before. It basically says that the reason that women have a higher injury and death rate in car crashes, is because women choose less safe cars than men. So it’s basically like, “Why were you wearing that skirt? Why were you going down that dark alley,” but the car edition. And it does not account for the fact that women are often passengers in the cars that men are driving, and they are experiencing these higher incidents of injury and of death.
Patricia: Yeah. And then they explain how they use mid-size male dummies and small female dummies – we know what that really means.
Caroline: Like the stuff that we already know. Yeah.
Patricia: And they say, “We don’t perform every test twice. We don’t do one with female dummies and one with male dummies, and report separate values.” And they will not commit to that either. They said that explicitly.
Caroline: I do think that the next paragraph is really interesting, because I mean, they’re basically acknowledging there’s not really any point sex-disaggregating, because the female dummy isn’t really a female dummy, which is kind of our point. But Euro NCAP has actually put the Thor 5F in their provisional roadmap for introduction in 2027, which, as we know, is still, it’s not an average female dummy, it’s still a very, very small dummy, but it is nevertheless based on female data. So I still think that they could commit to sex-disaggregating their data once there is data that can be disaggregated by sex.
Patricia: Yeah, I think that’s a really good idea.
Caroline: I still think that they should be committing to using the smaller dummy in the different seats. And I think that they should be committing to be transparent about which dummy was used in which seats in which tests.
Caroline: I think it would still actually be interesting to see those sex-disaggregated results. I don’t see any reason that they shouldn’t say, “Okay, this isn’t necessarily representative of a female body, but this is how this dummy performed versus this dummy.” I don’t really see why we shouldn’t get to see that information giving us this. They can be more transparent.
Patricia: Well, especially when the whole point of having consumer tests is that you put the power in the hands of the consumer and you..
Patricia: …you give them a fair representation.
Caroline: Right, that’s such a good point. You have one job, Euro NCAP. That’s literally the point of you. I also have to say, I don’t really see why they have to wait until 2027 to introduce the Thor 5F. It exists, it’s been validated, and I guess their position would be, “Oh, well we need to give car manufacturers time to design to this dummy so they can do well.” And I just think, “No, they don’t. They should already be designing cars that are safe for women. In fact, they claim that they are. So test them on this dummy now to see whether that’s actually true.” Because the sooner you introduce the Thor 5F, the sooner you can do more meaningful sex-disaggregation, obviously with the caveat that it’s not an average female, blah, blah, blah. But it is an improvement. You should be tested on, “What are you doing now? Is what you’re doing good enough now? And if it isn’t, well, consumers have a right to know that, now.”
Caroline, narrating: To me, the obvious solution here is transparency. Consumers should be able to make informed choices, but at the moment the consumer tests are letting them down. I want Euro NCAP to be explicit about which dummies have been used in which tests, and to commit to sex-disaggregating their five star ratings once the Thor 5F is being used in their tests. If a car is five stars safe for men and two stars safe for women, consumers have a right to know that. This would be so easy to implement, and it would cost next to nothing, but the impact could be huge. So let’s try and put some pressure on. If you visit the Tortoise website, you can click through to a pre-written email that will go straight to the head of Euro NCAP, Niels Ebbe Jacobson, asking him to make this change. We’ll put a link in the show notes. I really think if we could make this happen, it would make a huge difference.
And Maria is also optimistic about the future.
Maria: I do have hope, because I believe in the power of our collective action. And I think together we will get something done, and we will not stop until it is done. That being said, I think we’re up against pretty significant institutional forces that are historically resistant to change. And so I feel very lucky that I am a participant in this process and that I get to watch it all unfold. I can’t wait until we win this fight.
Caroline: Maria, I can’t wait either.
Caroline, narrating: Thanks for listening to this episode of Visible Women from Tortoise. If you’re a Tortoise Plus listener on Apple Podcasts, or a Tortoise member, listen out for a bonus episode coming on Friday.
This episode was written and produced by me, Caroline Criado Perez, alongside Hannah Varrall and Patricia Clarke. The executive producer is Basia Cummings. It features original music by Tom Kinsella, and sound design from Studio Klong.