Female drivers experience greater vulnerabilities when involved in motor vehicle crashes, according to a new study published online yesterday in the American Journal of Public Health. Researchers say the lack of tailoring of safety designs toward women may be to blame.

Using national crash data to determine the role of driver gender as a predictor of injury outcome when involved in a crash, researchers found that belted female drivers are more susceptible to injuries compared with belted male drivers when involved in a similar motor vehicle crash. They also found that belted female drivers exhibited a higher risk of chest and spine injuries compared with their male counterparts.

The authors noted “a higher risk of lower extreme injuries reported for female drivers as a result of their relatively short stature, preferred seating posture and a combination of these factors yielding lower safety protection from the standard restraint devices.”

“One reason safety systems are designed more for the male population is that men are three times more likely to be involved in a car crash that leads to serious or fatal injuries,” according to a story by ABC News. “In recent years, however, there has been an increase in female drivers getting into these types of accidents.”

The study focused on crashes and cars between 1998 and 2008, so all of the cars involved in the research were about six years old. However, many of these older cars are still on the road, which suggests that the findings cannot be discounted.

“Female motor vehicle drivers today may not be as safe as their male counterparts,” wrote the authors. ”Therefore, the relative higher vulnerability of female drivers …when exposed to moderate and serious crashes must be taken into account.”