09 octubre 2014

Women at the wheel, the danger is real?

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By Luz Caballero*


The sentence has rhythm, but it is not true. Road accidents are the leading cause of deaths not related to health in the world. 1.24 million of people die annually in traffic accidents. Around 46% of them are known as vulnerable road users:  pedestrians, cyclist and motorcyclists. Most (56%) are between 15-44 years old, and the majority (77%) are men.

Let´s analyze the data. Although each country has specific features regarding its accident rates, there are patters that can be found in most, and gender is one. Globally, almost three times (2.7) as many males as compared to females die from road traffic injuries, accounting for the largest sex differentials in mortality rates from unintentional injury (falls, drownings, fires, poisoning, and other).

Women seem to be more affected in traffic accidents as passengers (private cars and buses) and pedestrians, but as drivers women experience quite the opposite: a mobility research study carried out in Colombia found that out of 10 traffic accidents, only one is caused by a female driver.

What factors influence these gender differences?

Around 90% of traffic accidents are caused by a human error, and no doubt speed is one of the leading causes of road crashes. An increase in the speed average is related directly to both the likelihood to be involved in a car crash and the severity of the aftermath. And the data show that men like to step heavily on the accelerator.

A study carried out in New South Wales, Australia, between 1998 and 2002 showed that 82% of drivers involves in car crashes were men. As a result, an advertising campaign was designed to target men between 20-49 years old:

The greatest risk of injury and death in men could be linked to the fact that men have more driving licenses, are more exposed to driving and take more risks (as drivers and as pedestrians).

On the other hand, a joint research study of Audi and University of Barcelona focusing on how empathy affects driving (the more the empathy, the better the driving), reveals that the least empathic profile –that is the one more likely to be involved in an accident and get a ticket- is that of a woman who drives less than 30 minutes a day, uses the car to take kids to school or go to the doctor and doesn´t care about double parking for a short time.

Even though all this data is interesting, there is a lack of information on road accidents disaggregated by gender and a need for studies about traffic and accidents with a focus on gender in order to be able to generate conclusions and plan policies and programs contributing to decreasing the number of road accidents.

Up to now, we have reviewed the links that could rise between road crashes and gender, but what happens when we look at the consequences of casualties and injuries? In this way, we can trigger some questions:

1. The road accident costs in Latin America are well studied. But, what is the cost for families? When most casualties (59%) happen with men at a productive age (15-44), what is the economic impact on families?

1. Who takes care of the injured after an accidents?

2. Women often work in the informal sector or don´t work at all; therefore they don´t have social benefits. What kind of social help can women receive if they are involved in a traffic accident?

Luz Caballero*Luz Caballero is a consultant in Gender and Infrastructure. Economist, she began her career in the private sector with the Acciona group. She has been working for nearly 10 years on the integration of social and gender perspective in infrastructure projects. He has provided technical support to the IDB Transport Division and works with the World Bank in the Energy and Transportation area.

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