If you have ever wondered about the differences between men and women, check out their driving.
I taught my sons to drive – They drive like their father, their uncle who lives 3,000 miles away and most other men I know.
Research findings, insurance statistics and possibly your own experience highlight gender differences in driving caused by a mix of biological, psychological, social and even evolutionary factors.
Who Drives Better?
Actually the answer to the question of who drives better depends on the criteria and reflects the differences. According Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic, some research suggests that men do show more technical proficiency in driving as well as a greater tendency to declare themselves “above average drivers.”
Whatever skill and confidence men may have, the fact that they drive more aggressively, take more risks, speed more, drink more and actually drive many more miles than women undermines their success.
Men have 77% higher risk of dying in a car accident than women based on miles driven.
While statistically considered “safer” drivers, women have often been socially stereotyped as “bad drivers.” Some psychologists have wondered if women buy into this belief and succumb to the “stereotype threat” in a way that actually affects their driving and confidence.
As reported in an article for AAA, an Australian study found that women in a driving simulator who were given negative stereotypes about women drivers were twice as likely to collide with a jaywalking pedestrian than women drivers not given the stereotype.
Men and Women Drivers
What Can We Learn from the Differences?
Rather than stereotyping, understanding some of the factors that underscore the differences of men and women drivers may inform us in a way that makes for safer driving.
Aggressive Driving Differences
One researcher suggested that if the relationship between gender and driving violations was removed – gender would no longer be predictive of accidents.
Why Does Driving Invite Aggression in Men?
Could it be that the natural skill for driving in men reduces caution and coupled with other factors makes driving a ready arena for competition, aggression and acting out?
Peter Marsh and Peter Collett, authors of Driving Passion: The Psychology of the Car consider ‘territorial imperative’ and the aggressive defensive behavior associated with it as an answer. They suggest that the car is often the first symbol of independent ownership for a young man – his home turf, and when ‘invaded’ by tailgating or perceived aggressive behaviors, he responds aggressively with territorial defense seen cross-culturally and in some animal species.
Driving and Testosterone-Much of the literature on risk-taking associates it more with men across a broad range of activities including driving. An area of focus studied to explain gender differences has been the role of hormones including levels of testosterone. The higher levels of testosterone found in men compared with women have been correlated with risk-taking, sensation seeking as well as aggression and conflict.
More Risks Women Will Take -An interesting counterbalance is offered by a study which found that men and women both engage in risks – it depends on the category. Overall men were found to be bigger risk takers than women but women were more likely to go white water rafting, be hypnotized and skip class than males were. Men and women equally ranked activities as roller coaster riding, quitting their jobs without one lined up, and shoplifting. Consistent with driving statistics, however, men were more likely to drive 25mph over the speed limit, ride a motorcycle or get on the roof of a moving car!
Women and Cell Phone Risk – Women will risk use of a cell phone while driving more than men. In fact, a study found that men are more likely than women to report being passengers of cell-distracted drivers (48% vs. 40%). Hypotheses that have been proposed to explain this include women’s need to be and stay connected, their rationalization that they are only doing local driving, and their dexterity at multi-tasking.
Arguments have been that driving a vehicle at 60 mph in the midst of traffic is not the time for multi-tasking!
The Evolutionary Perspective
In the effort to make sense of the gender divide, evolutionary psychologists propose that we consider some of the differences, risks and irrational behaviors associated with driving as part of the neural circuitry we once needed for survival.
Man, the hunter gatherer needed to speed, navigate unwelcoming areas, and risk boundaries. Woman, the child bearer and caregiver needed to socialize and communicate.
Neither was dealing with freeways, cell phones or DWI’s.
America is a nation with more passenger vehicles than licensed drivers. 69% of us like driving.
It seems important that we reconsider the instincts we bring to our driving. Maybe we can strive together for a safer destiny.
Photo by epSos.de , available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
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The difference between men and women drivers | WOW | Women on Wheels (August 18, 2011)
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Last reviewed: 29 Jul 2011