Here’s the good news: On the whole, automobiles are getting safer for their occupants. If you’re a seat-belted occupant of a newer-model (2009 or later) car, you’re less at risk of serious injury in a front-end collision than in an older car.

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Here’s the caveat: If you’re a woman, you’re still at 73 percent greater risk of serious injury than a man. 

Those are two of the broad takeaways from a study led by Jason Forman (Engr ’03, ’09), a principal scientist in UVA’s Center for Biomechanics, published in July in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention. Drawing on crash and injury data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the study looked at factors including type and severity of injury, age and gender of injured occupants, and the body region (such as head or lower extremity) where injury occurred.

The data showed that for all drivers, there was increased incidence of concussion as well as arm, forearm and skeletal thorax injuries in the newer-model compared to older-model vehicles. However, there was an overall decrease in lower-extremity—particularly ankle, foot and knee—injuries. Yet it was in lower-extremity injuries that the researchers found the most significant sex-related difference.

Women’s greater risk for serious or fatal injury was previously recognized in a UVA study from 2011 drawn from data gathered from 1998 through 2008. The more recent study, covering data from 1998 through 2015, demonstrated that—even when controlling for age, height, body mass index and crash severity—the elevated risk remained.