Seat belts have been mandatory safety equipment on passenger vehicles sold in Nevada and around the country since 1968 because they save lives and prevent catastrophic injuries. However, a study published in the academic journal Traffic Injury Prevention on July 10 suggests that safety belts do not provide as much protection to women as they do to men. A team of researchers from the University of Virginia came to this conclusion after scrutinizing accident reports from 22,854 front-end collisions that occurred between 1998 and 2015.

After sorting the data to remove passenger vehicle occupants who were not restrained by seat belts and taking the ages of the cars involved and the severity of the accidents into consideration, the researchers discovered that women were 73% more likely to suffer a severe injury in a front-end crash than men. The number of back, leg and abdominal injuries was especially high among female passenger vehicle occupants. However, the study did not explore the possible causes of the injury disparity.

One of the lead researchers speculated that the way auto manufacturers test their cars could be playing a role. She pointed out to reporters that the dummies used in crash tests were designed decades ago and based on men who served in the military. When carmakers want to know how women would fare in a crash, they generally use smaller versions of the same dummy. According to the researcher, this means that the results do not account for differences in the female body.

Studies about the effectiveness of seat belts are sometimes crucial evidence in car accident lawsuits. When the plaintiffs in these cases were not properly restrained, the defendants may argue that they acted negligently and should be awarded reduced damages. Experienced personal injury attorneys might use research such as this study to counter these arguments.