Female Crash-Test Dummies Can Make Women Safer

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Invisible Women" by Caroline Criado Perez. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why don’t car companies use female crash-test dummies? Why are women more likely to be injured in car crashes?

In Invisible Women, Caroline Criado Perez says that the lack of female crash-test dummies used by car companies is affecting women’s safety. She attests that cars aren’t designed to protect women’s bodies—only men’s.

Check out why female dummies should be used in regulatory car crash tests.

Why Women Are at a Disadvantage When Driving

Perez contends that we can see how our male-as-default mindset results in a gender data gap by looking at how everyday products—specifically cars—are created. Perez explains that our male-as-default mindset makes us believe that products that work for men must work for everybody. This leads us to not collect data on women and thus create products that harm women’s health. Notably, our cars don’t properly protect women because we don’t test car safety using female crash-test dummies.

To illustrate, Perez points to how the European Union determines whether a car is safe. In the EU, a car must undergo five regulatory crash tests. These tests determine whether the car is safe for all people, but they require the usage of a crash-test dummy based on the “fiftieth percentile male,” which demonstrates a male-as-default mindset. Since these tests don’t use female crash-test dummies, they ensure that the EU lacks information on whether these cars are safe for women.

Moreover, although the EU has a separate regulatory test that requires the use of a crash-test dummy based on the “fifth-percentile female,” Perez argues that this test still doesn’t provide enough information on whether a car sufficiently protects women. This is because there are practically no anatomically correct female crash-test dummies that account for all the biological differences between the sexes that might be relevant in a car crash—like the fact that each sex’s muscle mass is distributed differently.

Therefore, Perez argues, cars are created to work for the average male—not the average female—and thus do not sufficiently protect women’s bodies. As evidence, Perez points to the fact that, even though a woman is less likely to be in a car crash than a man, she is far more likely to be seriously injured or die from one. 

In this way, Perez contends, our male-as-default mindset leads to a lack of data regarding whether a car is safe for women. This, in turn, leads to unsafe cars on the road—and ultimately harms women’s health.

The World Since Invisible Women: Updated Safety Regulations and New Learnings

Since Invisible Women was published in 2019, the world has updated its safety regulations and learned more about how car crashes affect men and women differently. Notably, the EU has updated its safety regulations to take into account the reality that cars that are safe for men are not necessarily safe for others: In July 2022, new regulations went into effect that require new cars to have frontal impact protection “which does not disadvantage women and older people.”

Moreover, we’ve also learned why using the fifth-percentile female crash-test dummy doesn’t provide sufficient information on whether a car protects women. Safety agencies argue that testing a car on both a fifth-percentile female dummy and a fiftieth-percentile male dummy makes it clearer whether it is safe for the widest possible range of people than testing with a fiftieth-percentile female dummy would. 

However, UK researchers inspired by Perez’s work discovered that women were more frequently trapped than men after car crashes—partly because women have wider pelvises than men so they were more likely to have pelvic injuries that made escaping from the car difficult. Tests that use fifth-percentile female dummies don’t reveal women’s risk of pelvic injuries—because, as the researchers note, these dummies are based on men and thus don’t accurately represent the width of an adult woman’s pelvis.

Female Crash-Test Dummies Can Make Women Safer

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Caroline Criado Perez's "Invisible Women" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Invisible Women summary :

  • How society's male-as-default mindset leads to a gender data gap
  • Why cars don't properly protect women during accidents
  • Why we don’t know how most medicines affect women

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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