-- Younger women are far more likely than men to die in an equivalent car crash, a government study finds -- but later in life, women drivers are more likely to survive the same crash.

For drivers age 21-30, the risk of dying in a car crash with the same force of impact is 25.9 percent higher for women than men the same age, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports in a new 349-page report analyzing 50 years of crash data.

As early as age 18, men have a better chance of surviving the same crash than women. "Men's advantage, however, diminishes after age 35; by age 70, female and male drivers are about equally at risk," NHTSA found in the study released Friday. By the time they hit age 65-74, women drivers have a 1.4 percent lower risk of dying in a similar car crash than men.

But female passengers are not as fortunate: Female passengers age 21-30 have a 29.2 percent higher risk of dying in car crashes than men. At age 65-74, female passengers still have a 11.4 percent higher chance of dying than the same age male passengers.

The difference "may reflect that elderly female drivers may be exceptionally healthy for their age group," NHTSA found.

Younger men are larger and stronger than women and therefore more likely to survive a crash of identical forces. Another reason for the difference is that younger women not wearing seat belts are more likely to be ejected from a vehicle during a rollover crash and therefore more likely to die.


On average, the risk of women dying in crashes of the same force is 17 percent higher than men for all ages and seating position.

NHTSA said women are susceptible to neck and abdominal injuries, and arm and leg fractures. Female drivers are especially vulnerable to leg fractures.

Aging steadily increases Americans' odds of dying in a car crash after age 21. A 75-year-old male driver is five times more likely to die in a crash with the same impact as a 21-year-old man. A 75-year-old female driver is four times more likely to die than a 21-year-old woman.

The risk of dying increases faster for those in the passenger seat or rear seat in part because "healthier seniors continue to drive, while less healthy seniors may ride only as passengers," NHTSA said.

The agency said automakers may be able to make improvements especially to help older passengers. Seat belts in the back seat are not as effective for older passengers, NHTSA found, but side air bags are more effective at protecting older drivers and passengers.

NHTSA says air bags "quite possibly" are protecting women even more than men, which "may have contributed to shrinking the historical risk for females relative to males of the same age."

Overall risk in dying in car crashes has fallen dramatically. It's down 42 percent from 1955 until 2002 because of air bags, increased seat belt use and other safety requirements.

Read the study here: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811766.pdf