Women Drivers

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We’ve all heard the epithet, “Women drivers!” Some of us have even said it ourselves. (Personally, I like to say, “Men drivers!” But that’s another issue.) Why do women drivers have such a bad reputation? And is it fair?

Charlotte Allen wrote about women drivers in her March 2, 2008 article for the Washington Post:

Depressing as it is, several of the supposed misogynist myths about female inferiority have been proven true. Women really are worse drivers than men, for example. A study published in 1998 by the Johns Hopkins schools of medicine and public health revealed that women clocked 5.7 auto accidents per million miles driven, in contrast to men’s 5.1, even though men drive about 74 percent more miles a year than women. The only good news was that women tended to take fewer driving risks than men, so their crashes were only a third as likely to be fatal. Those statistics were reinforced by a study released by the University of London in January showing that women and gay men perform more poorly than heterosexual men at tasks involving navigation and spatial awareness, both crucial to good driving. [So, gay men are tarred by the same brush as women are. Interesting.] Comment mine.

What I don’t get is the conclusion (is it Allen’s own or that of the researchers?) that women are worse drivers than men, even though men’s accidents are three times more likely to be fatal. I think I’d rather have a few fender benders over a fatal car crash. It just so happens that I personally know two men who killed the drivers of other cars by going left of center. I don’t know any women who have done the same. That’s hardly a statistical sample, but it does illustrate the point.

Woman Driving Car (Mrs Bliven, 1907?)
Woman driving (ca. 1907)

Okay, so men are more likely to take risks and to cause fatal car accidents. So what is it that women do so badly? Allen doesn’t discuss the reasons women have more accidents, but I have a few theories of my own:

Women are more distracted. We have more to think about because we are in charge of more things than men are. Men go to and from work, mainly. Or to and from sporting events. Or bars. And when they do, they are usually focused on just what’s in front of them. Women are thinking about their jobs, their children, their errands, their housework–oh, and their relationships. And I can’t help but wonder if having children in the car is a major distraction for women drivers. I know it was for me. For women, driving is a means to other ends. For men, driving is the end. They focus more on their driving but they also are more easily bothered by distractions.

Women don’t get as much experience behind the wheel as men do. Allen herself points out that men drive about 74% more than women do. Unfamiliarity with driving can cause accidents. Frankly, I was surprised that the difference in time clocked behind the wheel was so wide. When my children were still at home, I felt like I lived in the car. And that didn’t count my commute to work, grocery shopping and running errands. Perhaps the difference comes from the fact that men usually take over the wheel when they and their wives or girlfriends are both in the car. And then there are some women who rarely leave the house because of religious reasons, tradition, not having their own car or because they never learned how to drive in the first place.

Women do more in-city and close-to-home driving. Statistics show that the majority of traffic accidents occur within a 25 mile radius of one’s home. Women are not as likely as men to have long commutes, to travel for business or to drive on the freeway. They are more vulnerable to car accidents because of the complexity of city driving.

On the positive side, women are usually more careful drivers and more capable of handling distractions.

Go to Google Answers for more studies and statistics about female drivers.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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