Road crashes affect women and men differently—here’s why
March 08, 2021
Road safety is a critical development priority for South Asia, impacting health, wellbeing and economic growth. Countries in the region must work together if they are to achieve the goal of halving road crash deaths by 2030. This blog is part of our Together for Road Safety campaign.
Traffic collisions claim 1.35 million lives every year—a number that has been widely publicized. But the global statistics on road safety hide many disparities when it comes to the geographic distribution of victims, their socioeconomic profile, and, perhaps more surprisingly, their gender.
Globally, males under 25 are 2.7 times more likely to die in a road crash than their female counterparts. The gap is even wider in India, where the number of traffic fatalities for young men is 6.2 times higher than it is for young women.
These figures are striking, to say the least, and clearly show the need for transport experts to look at road safety from a gender perspective. How can we explain the imbalance between male and female crash fatalities? Beyond mortality, are there any other differences in the way road crashes impact men and women? Let’s try to tackle some of these questions using India as an example.
Global statistics on road safety hide many disparities when it comes to the geographic distribution of victims, their socioeconomic profile, and, perhaps more surprisingly, their gender.
Part of the gender gap may be down to user behavior and travel patterns. Research has shown that men, in developing countries, travel more relative to women taking more risks on the road, which could, to some extent, explain why they are more frequently involved in serious crashes.
But this pattern reflects deeper issues of limited mobility, access, and opportunity. Indian women remain largely excluded from social and economic life, with a labor force participation rate of only 27 percent, one of the lowest in the world. This means they commute less than men, travel shorter distances, and, ultimately, are less exposed to road safety risk.
When a crash does happen, the implications for men and women are also quite different. Studies found women are more likely to be injured and killed than men in crashes of equal or similar severity. They are also less likely to receive effective post-crash care in the event of injury due to lack of health insurance and other sustainable financial support.
Moreover, as mentioned in a recent World Bank report, while road fatalities and injuries can often spell financial trouble for poor Indian households, the situation is much harder on women. Women disproportionately bear the burden of crashes across poor and rich households, often taking up extra work, assuming greater responsibilities, and performing caregiving activities after a crash.
Because of their financial dependence, many women are at risk of falling into poverty when a man dies or finds himself unable to work after a road crash, especially the ones from low-income households in rural areas - “it is women who bear the brunt of caregiving activities, leading to a double burden of labor and mental load, exacerbated inequalities of opportunities in returning to livelihoods and income generating tasks.”
In addition, low literacy rates and lack of work experience make it harder for women to sign up for or claim insurance benefits and compensation . The result is that most Indian women have no viable way of covering the health expenses or income loss resulting from a road crash.
Women often take up extra work, assume greater responsibilities, and perform caregiving activities after a crash.
As motorization across the country continues to rise, there are a number of measures that could help reduce the burden of road crashes—for Indians in general, and for women in particular:
Enhancing safety for all road users through safer roads and roadsides, better speed control, and safer vehicles. A recent study by the World Bank-led Global Road Safety Facility has revealed that safer roads could bring significant benefits: over 24 years, a 50 percent reduction in road traffic deaths and injuries would increase India’s GDP by 14 percent .
Upgrading mass transit in order to provide women with a safe, reliable transport alternative that will allow them to reach more jobs and services. To achieve this, the design of public transport systems should adequately reflect the needs of women, with a special focus on usability, safety, and personal security. Efforts to optimize lighting, promote open spaces, manage crowds, and improve walking conditions around transit stops can go a long way.
Expanding the reach of India’s national health insurance and crash insurance programs, particularly for women who live in low-income households or do not have access to the relevant information.
Promoting a complementary caregiver system and government-sponsored programs in which a caregiver would be paid or partially subsidized for attending to a family member.
Providing legal consultation and free legal assistance (by government and non-governmental organization) to the victims for financial compensation.
To our female and male readers everywhere—we’d love to hear from you! How do you think gender may have impacted your experience with road safety? How should policymakers respond to gender gaps in transport?
Authors: Wei Yan, Transport Specialist, World Bank & Dr. Soames Job, Head of the Global Road Safety Facility.
This blog was originally posted as a World Bank blog — part of the End Poverty in South Asia series.