Why women are less safe than men when driving.
A study at the University of Virginia, soon to be published in the academic journal Traffic Injury Prevention, has determined that women are at greater risk of injury or death in motor vehicle accidents because safety tests are conducted using crash test dummies that mimic the physiology only of men.
According to the authors of the study, despite the fact that female physiology differs from that of males in areas such as distribution of muscle and fat, bone alignment, and features of the pelvis, most crash test dummies in use today are still based on male models from the 1960s. As a result, important factors such as how differences in breast tissue impact the effectiveness of the three-point seatbelt and how range of joint motion during menstruation makes females more susceptible to injury, are not widely considered in most automotive safety testing.
The consequences of this inadequate testing methodology are shocking. According to the study, advances in safety technology mean that today’s drivers are 55 per cent less likely to sustain a serious injury or fatality from a collision in a vehicle made since 2009. Yet a female is 73 per cent more likely to suffer a serious injury or fatality than a male driver. In other words, most of the advances in safety that have come about as a result of improved automotive testing and technology have not benefitted women because female physiology is not considered in the data analysis and regulatory testing.
This reality reflects an industry-wide shortcoming in listening to the Voice of the Customer (VoC). The VoC recognizes three distinct types of customer needs:
- Stated needs are those the customer can articulate. In automotive design, this might include comfort and aesthetic features such as audio technology, dashboard design, and operational features that make the driving experience more enjoyable.
- Implied needs are those the customer considers too obvious to mention but still expect to find in the product. For example, drivers expect their cars will function like typical automobiles and will provide them adequate safety protection in a crash.
- Silent needs are those of which the customer might not even be aware and doesn't articulate. For example, when parents started keeping portable DVD players in their vehicles to entertain children on long trips, they were actually demonstrating a need for on-board entertainment systems with individual screens in the passenger seats.
When a female driver assumes that she is as safe in a vehicle as a male driver, she is demonstrating an implied need that should be obvious to anyone who designs automobiles in the twenty-first century. And yet, while the industry has done a remarkable job listening to the stated and implied needs that have led to on-board entertainment systems, better cup holders, more leg room, and even features that address environmental sustainability, it has clearly failed to listen to one of the most fundamental needs of a well-represented group of users.
So does the entire industry need to do a complete about-face with its safety testing approach? No. Fortunately, one automaker has been collecting, understanding, and using data on safety design for both male and female drivers. Since 1998, Volvo has been developing virtual crash test dummies that incorporate a broad sample of physiological features based on gender, weight, height, and shape. Volvo augments this testing with a huge data set collected from analyzing real-world crashes since the 1950s. This ensures that Volvo's cars are designed to provide maximum crash resistance and safety features to every driver, regardless of their physiology. To encourage the entire industry to incorporate these lessons into future automobile design, Volvo is openly sharing this data as part of Project E.V.A. (Equal Vehicles for All).
Volvo's E.V.A. initiative will provide automakers the data they need to ensure that women are just as safe in a car as men are, but there is still an important lesson to be learned about listening to the VoC. While this data will help to solve one problem, there will always be many other important design elements that manufacturers must learn to incorporate by listening to the implied and silent VoC. By doing so, we not only make our customers happier, we can keep them safer.
About the author: Graham Freeman is a content writer and editor at Intelex Technologies in Toronto, where he writes on topics relating to quality management.