Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Men and Women Drivers: The Gender Divide

freeway trafficIf 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.”

  • In a study of male and female drivers of varying experience levels attempting to park in a closed-off parking garage, men parked more quickly and more accurately.
  • When young drivers take the in-car portion of the driving test in the UK, young males do statistically better than young females.

Men 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.

Female Drivers

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.

  • “John, that’s it – I would rather be alive then be there on time.”
  • “Nan, if you drive we will both die of old age before we get there.”

Men and Women Drivers

  • A new aspect of driving that compromises the success of both male and female drivers is cell phone use. Research finds that drivers using both hand-held and hands-free cellular phones are four times more likely than non-users to get into a crash that can cause serious injury. It multiples the risk of a fatality nine-fold.
  • Whereas some studies suggest the same use and risk for men and women, government reports find that adult women drivers were observed to be on cell phones more.

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

  • The most aggressive drivers are young men between ages 17-35 years.
  • Men honked their horns three times more quickly than women when drivers in front did not move on a green light.
  • Whereas women have more crashes based on slips or lapses, men’s crashes are due to driving violations that tend to be more deliberate and risky- speeding, non-seat belt use and drinking.

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.

  • The suggestion of such an instinctive response invites thinking about how such behavior can be recognized and redirected.
  • With the increasing majority of female drivers in every age category and the increasing movement of women across social boundaries held by men (Female NASCAR drivers broke records in the 2010 and 2011 seasons) will driving behavior become more or less aggressive in men and women?

Risk-Taking Differences

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 RiskWomen 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.