"If you were taller." Why women are more likely to be injured in a car accident.


When Eloise Walsh was in a horrific car accident in 2015, there was one thing her recovery team kept telling her.

They told her there was something beyond her control that could have prevented her extensive injuries – injuries which included crushed bones in her left foot, a broken nose, dislocated hips and broken ribs.

They told her that if she’d just had a different physical build, she might have escaped unscathed.

Listen to The Quicky explore the dangers of living in a world designed by men. Post continues after podcast.

“If you’d been a bit taller, this wouldn’t have happened,” the fireman who rescued Eloise told her.

Eloise explained to Claire Murphy, the host of Mamamia’s daily podcast The Quicky, that she had hit a light post at 70 km/h after passing out due to heat stroke on a sweltering 45 degree day.

Eloise was wearing a seat belt, but because she was sitting closer to her steering wheel than someone taller – for example, a man – her injuries were more severe.

It was an opinion echoed by her doctor.

“If you’d weighed, you know, 10 more kilos, if you were just a bit taller, none of this would have happened,” her doctor later explained.

This is because the seat belt – the device we’re told will hinder severe injuries in road accidents – is designed with the average male as the test height and weight.

In the 1960s, the crash test dummies used in testing vehicle collisions were based on the average male. This only sparked an alteration to crash test dummy design in 2011, following the findings of a study conducted by the University of Virginia’s Centre for Applied Biomechanics.


The University of Virginia study demonstrated that women wearing seat belts were 47 per cent more likely than male seat belt-wearers to sustain severe injuries during road accidents, and 71 per cent more likely for moderate injuries.

“Hopefully, with increased understanding of injury tolerance and prediction, automotive manufacturers, auto safety policymakers and injury prevention researchers can work together to make vehicles safer for the entire population,” one of the graduate students, Carolyn Roberts had said of the study.

But seat belts and crash test dummies aren’t the only design disadvantages women face.

Mechanical engineer Kat Ely spoke to The Quicky about the pitfalls of living in a world engineered predominantly by, and for, men.

In an article she published in 2015, she says that a male bias dominates our daily lives.

Her studies surround a number of factors which impact our day-to-day lives – from tools, to medicine, even the temperature of your office.

She says in many cases, women are left out of the equation because design teams so often consist of mainly men.

“The process of designing is going through a lot of different iterations,” she explains.

“(The people designing) tend to design for the people around them which is a very natural thing to do, but if there are just men in the room they’re going to design something that’s going to be comfortable for them, that fits ergonomically, that fits height-wise, weight-wise, and then if women tend to be smaller framed, have smaller hands, it might not fit them,” she says.


“I talk a lot about power tools, when you’re designing power tools you think ‘Oh the demographic I’m designing for is predominantly men,’ so the tools are much heavier, much bulkier, and can actually frankly be harder for women to use, for example if they have smaller hands then they can’t ergonomically fit their hands around the tool.”

Ely said the same goes in some cases with medicine, when clinical trials test on only males.

“Typically men have been considered representative of the species, so a lot of clinical trials have only focus on men for testing a specific drug, not taking into account that men and women react to drugs very differently,” she says.

“There was a study done in 2005 (that found) the decade before that saw eight out of 10 prescription drugs withdrawn from the US market because they caused statistically greater health risks for women.”

And while it may seem rather trivial in the scheme of things, she goes on to explain that living in a world designed by men could actually be the reason behind why women are freezing in the office.

“The algorithms that design how our temperatures are controlled in the office were designed in the 1960s,” Ely tells Claire.

“Back in the 1960s it was predominantly men that worked and women weren’t in the office as much, so it made sense then. But the algorithm hasn’t changed since the 1960s.”

Looking around at other environments and workplaces, it’s not just a cold office making women less comfortable than men. The design disadvantage could be impacting our safety.


“In the police force men are safer with the invention of stab proof vests, but they’re made to fit male officers, leaving the female officers vulnerable to a knife attack,” Claire Murphy explained on the podcast.

“Smart phones are made to fit a man’s hand (and) voice recognition has been found to respond to a man’s voice with 70 per cent more accuracy than a woman’s.

“When Siri was launched in the US it was found that it could easily look up prostitutes and Viagra suppliers, but responded with ‘I don’t know what you mean by I was raped’ when asked about sexual assault.”

So how do we as a society overcome the design disadvantage?

Ely says it’s down to “designing for the extreme”, and ensuring women are always included in the testing process.

“If you ergonomically designed something that fits both the 5th percentile and the 95th percentile in terms of height and weight and hand size, it’s going to fit everyone in between.

“It has to do with who’s in the room when you’re designing. A lot of companies do very formal user research, but a lot of micro decisions get made in between and that’s decided based on who’s in the room.

“They say ‘feel this thing,’ ‘how does this latch feel?,’ ‘is this comfortable for you?,’ and if everyone sitting around is male and has large hands they’ll say ‘yeah that’s comfortable’ but if you had a very different person in the room, then it might not be.”

Until this happens, the male bias means the world for women is ultimately just not as safe.