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Baby You Can Drive My Car: Men vs. Women at the Wheel

So, who are the better drivers, men or women? That's the unasked question at the core of the columns I've written the last two days.

The answer is: It depends on how you define a "better" driver.

A review of the relevant literature conducted by Susan A. Ferguson and Keli A. Braitman of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that when only fatal crashes are examined, men have higher rates of driver involvement than women: "In the United States, the rate among men is about three times the rate among women per 10,000 licensed drivers."

That's a pretty big difference. But the picture is different when looking at all crashes in the United States. Per million miles traveled, women were 12 percent more likely than men to crash.

Here are some other findings from the paper:

  • Men rate the crash risk of driving situations lower than do women.
  • Men are less likely to use seatbelts and more likely to drive while impaired by alcohol.
  • Men are more likely to speed (though women, especially young women, seem to be catching up in this regard).

I think the most telling finding is this one: Men tend to rate their driving ability higher than women.

In a way, the data seems to reinforce a few stereotypes: Men are testosterone-filled risk takers, liable to drive into a tree and kill themselves. Women are careful drivers whose timidity gets them in all manner of fender-benders. And as far as my columns are concerned: Men are convinced that they're better drivers and thus don't like being in a car driven by a woman.

I don't think there's necessarily anything inherently gender-specific about being a good driver. It may be that having a license and driving a lot is something our society values more in a male than in a female. It may also be that women just simply don't drive as much as men. And what makes a good driver is the same thing that makes a good musician: practice, practice, practice.

By John Kelly  |  May 12, 2009; 9:10 AM ET
 
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Comments

I have taught high performance driving/accident avoidance and car control and most men do not take instruction well. Women on the other hand are more open to taking instruction and criticism. Your typical male with his big buck Porsche, Bimmer, Stang, Benz, Vette will say I have been driving for 30 years why am I in the novice group blah, blah. One ride with an experienced instructor on a skidpad or on a road course in their car usually convinces them they dont have a clue. And in may cases a female instructor is the better instructor.

And we can't forget most of us males myself included think with our smaller brain and let our egos control our driving.
Not as true in women drivers but becoming more prevalent.

Unless you have had instruction in car control/accident avoidance and high performance driving you don't a clue about driving. I know 8yo who race karts and quarter midgets who have better car control then 99.999% of the adult drivers.

And don't forget Mr Kelly males will drive home drunk a lot more often than females.

Posted by: sheepherder | May 12, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

If you've ever tried to get a cab on a weekend night, I think you might understand why more men drive after drinking. It may not be right, but it may seem the only option. I'd love to hear from some of the women who are of the age or inclination to be out on the partying circuit about how they manage to avoid the drinking and driving thing.

Posted by: mfromalexva | May 12, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

I can't help but wonder if you have any ideas to blog about if we're seriously being treated to the men vs. women drivers thing. This dusty controversy has been intermittently hauled out since there were cars, and is the sitcom plot you write when the well is dry, since you've already done the clipshow episode and the three-ghosts-visit episode. If the Brady Bunch has dealt with it, it can't be substantive.

Posted by: Fizziks | May 12, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Regarding Fizziks comment, I don't think John is quite "jumping the shark" yet. There is an interesting dimension to the question he asks and he points out some variables that do deserve consideration. Like the early debates on wage comparability when there were not men and women in comparable jobs with comparable skill sets, the research needs to go deeper and look at why the disparities identified exist.

Posted by: mfromalexva | May 12, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

This is in regard to finding a taxi: I moved to DC for NYC and the cabs are more readily available on the streets of NYC. But I never have a problem calling a cab company for a pick up in DC and Northern VA. I have a regular relationship with one company and always tip a minimum of $5 even on the less than $10 fares. The tip goes up with the fare. They always show when I call. The generous tip is because they are eliminating my risk of a DUI. I also keep the phone numbers of two other companies in my cell phone. The cabs are available but you have to call rather than wave one down. The other option for finding a cab is to go to any major hotel. There are usually cabs around. You can also call to be picked up from a metro stop.

Posted by: Spec128 | May 12, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

To Sec128, you must have the touch. I've faced waits of up to an hour when calling from one residence for a pick up to another one. It might be easier in the retail or entertainment areas of NoVa.

Posted by: mfromalexva | May 12, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

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