Girls in the fast lane

Historically, young males have had a significant edge over girls in a wide range of risky behaviors, among them, binge drinking and failure to wear seat belts. As a result, young men have been far more likely than young women to die in car crashes.

Now emergency department physicians from the University of California-Irvine Medical Center have found that, although boys still drink, fail to use seat belts and die in car crashes more often than girls, girls began to narrow the gap in all measures between 1995 and 2004.

Poring over 10 years of car crash data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, researchers found that automobile fatalities showed a marked increase among young women of legal drinking age &

those 21 to 24 &

during the period studied. The results were presented last week at the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine's annual meeting.

Dr. Virginia Tsai of UC Irvine says the drive for gender equality should affect the way emergency room doctors interact with young women patients when they have been brought in, say, after a minor accident. Given young women's growing propensity to drink, drive and get into deadly crashes, physicians should not skip the lecture on alcohol and seat belt use just because the patient isn't a boy, Tsai says.

"The time and conversation the staff may have with them ... may save their lives," Tsai says.

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