There are many stereotypes about the driving abilities of men and women. Many people view women as “bad drivers,” while men have the reputation of being more aggressive and inclined to take more risks than women. These views go back to the early days of driving, but do they reflect any truth about 21st-century reality? Do men or women get in more car accidents today?
While it is important to avoid shallow stereotyping, the insurance and legal professions cannot ignore statistical evidence pointing to differences between men and women on the road. How does the actual scientific evidence compare to the stereotype?
Reasons for the Stereotype
Instead of asking, “do men or women get in more car accidents?” we can ask why people have this belief since it affects people’s judgments on the road and in the courtroom.
Inexperience with the Rules of the Road
In the early 20th century, women were less likely to have jobs that required travel and less likely to have the financial means to afford a car. This lifestyle meant that experienced drivers were more likely to be male. If women did drive in those days, they might plausibly be less experienced and more likely to be involved in accidents. However, this is less likely to be a relevant factor in 21st century America, where male and female drivers typically learn how to drive in their teens and frequently drive in everyday life.
Many depictions of drivers in television and movies reinforce stereotypes about driving behavior. With the advent of YouTube and social media platforms, videos that reinforce stereotypes might go viral, creating the illusion that gender differences in behavior are more prevalent than they are. People often answer the question, “do men or women get in more car accidents?” in their own minds based on what they see on TV.
Films and television also depict aggressive driving, racing, speeding, and other potentially unsafe behaviors in male-centered contexts such as NASCAR racing, heist movies, and coming of age films. Popular culture tends to show more examples of men working with cars. These factors might make it more likely that male drivers will drive aggressively but might also motivate them to learn about cars and develop driving skills.
Women drivers appear more in popular culture in work or family-related settings. Depictions of women driving are less likely to be in competitive situations and less likely to show them engaging in illegal activities such as drag racing and car chases. This perception could lead women to view driving as a practical, utilitarian activity, while men might have more reason to think of it as a competition.
Levels of the hormone testosterone are higher in men than in women. Testosterone has a known effect on aggression and decision-making, two factors that come into play when driving.
Differences in Driving Behavior
There could be differences in driving behavior between men and women, such as signaling, changing speeds, merging, checking mirrors, and so forth. There could also be differences in texting, driving while fatigued, conversing with others in the car, managing children, and other behaviors that are likely to increase the risk of an accident.
One behavior that demonstrably increases the risk of a crash is driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Data from law enforcement shows that police catch men driving under the influence more often than women.
Differences in Interactions with the Police
Much of the data on the safety of men and women drivers depends on interactions with law enforcement. These interactions could be a police officer pulling a driver over or because a motorist reported a crash to the police. If police are more likely to pull over one gender than another for the same infraction, the data could give the false impression that they were more prone to unsafe driving.
It’s also possible that one gender might be less likely to report crashes to the police. The drivers could either disregard the crash if it was minor or work out the issue among themselves without calling the police.
Even in the 21st century, women are more likely to take on the role of primary caregiver for children compared to men. This fact means that women drivers, particularly young adults, and middle-aged women, will be more likely to be driving with children in the vehicle. Doing so could make drivers more safety-conscious, but also cause more distractions for the driver, particularly if they are already tired.
On average, women tend to buy and drive safer cars. Modern cars have driver-assist features that help with parking, lane changes, backing up, and other tasks that could result in a collision.
The Difference in Base Rates
The question of whether men or women cause a greater number of accidents can be misleading if you do not account for overall differences in the number of drivers and the number of opportunities that they have to cause a crash.
For an extreme example, consider that left-handed drivers are almost certainly involved in a smaller number of accidents than right-handed people because the former comprise only 10% or so of the population.
Drivers who spend a lot of time on the road, such as truckers and traveling salespeople, are likely to be involved in car accidents even if they are safe drivers. People who hardly ever drive can have clean driving records, but that does not mean they are safer behind the wheel than veteran drivers.
There are about the same number of male and female drivers nationally, with some statistics showing a few percentage points of difference. Male drivers, however, tend to drive more. The gender gap for driving is less pronounced than it was a half-century ago, but men still tend to drive more than women. The average man drives 50% to 60% more than the average woman by some accounts.
These disparities mean that the average driver is more likely to be a man than a woman at any given time. Therefore, even if men and women were exactly equal in their driving skills and circumstances, you would expect men to cause 50-60% more crashes than women.
Data from different studies paint a complex picture of gender and car crashes. A recent study by the University of Michigan showed that female-female crashes were more likely and male-male crashes less likely than you would expect based on the total number of miles that men and women drove. The study does not pinpoint a cause for this discrepancy.
Another study of drivers in Los Angeles found a 60-40 split in the number of accidents that male and female drivers caused. This ratio is generally in line with the gap in the number of miles driven.
Another potential confounding variable in research on gender and traffic safety is the influence of age. Women tend to live longer than men, so women tend to outnumber men for age groups above 65. The reverse is true for drivers younger than 65.
Driving Under the Influence
Men are more likely than women to drive under the influence of alcohol and intoxicating substances. This factor increases their risk of causing an accident and their likelihood of engaging in risky and aggressive behavior.
Involvement in Fatal Accidents
Men are more likely to cause fatal accidents than women. Research from the University of Michigan shows that men caused nearly three times as many fatal accidents as women, which could be a result of the tendency of male drivers to speed. Speeding increases the likelihood that a crash will result in a fatality.
What Can We Learn from Gender Differences in Driving Behavior?
The data show that experience on the road does not necessarily lead to good driving behavior. Understanding the cultural and physiological influences that motivate behavior is not an excuse for that behavior. Responsible parties might conform to stereotypes or break them. For example:
- A single father could cause an accident because his two children in the back seat distracted him
- A woman could drink and drive and cause a fatal accident due to speeding
Does their gender make them any more or less culpable? No, but it is a part of their story. If you are injured in an accident and sue for damages, the defendant’s lawyer will have a chance to tell their story.
Were You the Victim of a Car Crash? Let Sadaka Law Help You
Do men or women get in more car accidents? It’s hard to tell. If you are a victim of a car crash, the only question that matters is how to hold the person who crashed into you accountable for their actions.
The experienced attorneys at Sadaka Law understand traffic laws and have fought for the rights of victims of car crashes in New York and New Jersey. With our law firm at your side, you will have a committed advocate to help you navigate complex court procedures and tell your story in the courtroom. Call us at 1-800-810-3457 or reach us by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.