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Are Men Really Better Drivers than Women?

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

There are many, many jokes about women’s driving. Whether it’s that they drive too slowly or that they struggle when parking, the general impression is usually that men are better drivers than women. But is this really true?

Are Men Really Better Drivers Than Women?Accident statistics have repeatedly shown that males are more likely to be involved in a car crash and up to 70% of all fatalities in car crashes are male. These statistics suggest that women may actually be better, or at least safer, drivers than men. So, what has research into this topic shown and is there really a sex difference in driving behaviours?

Much of the sex differences research has focussed on driving attitudes and driving styles. In particular researchers have examined the distinction between errors, unplanned mistakes made when intending to complete a legitimate and safe driving behaviour, and violations, intentional behaviours which may be unsafe. Men are far more likely to commit violations when driving, whereas women tend to commit more errors.

Other researchers have considered driving skills in men and women. In this area of research there is an important distinction to be made between two key behaviours: perceptual motor skills – the technical skills required to drive a vehicle. safety skills – the ability of a driver to anticipate and avoid a crash.

Again, there is a clear sex difference in how people assess their own driving skills. Men tend to highly rate their perceptual-motor driving skills whereas women are more likely to have high scores for safety driving traits.

One very interesting recent study examined the impact of sex differences and gender differences on driving behaviours. The terms “sex” and “gender” are often used interchangeably, but they actually refer to quite different things. Someone’s sex is biologically determined by your chromosomes – you are either male or female. In contrast, someone’s gender identity is a psychological concept i.e. how masculine or feminine you are.

Özkan and Lajunen considered both sex and gender identity and found that each explained variability in driving behaviour. In terms of sex differences, they found that men are significantly more likely to have been involved in collisions than women. They also used the Driving Skills Inventory to measure the perceptual motor skills and safety skills of the participants. Here they found strong associations with gender identity. People who are more masculine tend to have better perceptual motor driving skills, whereas people who are more feminine tend to score higher for the safety skills associated with driving.

It’s quite clear that there are sex and gender differences in driving behaviour, but why is this the case? One very likely explanation is that, at least to some extent, hormones can account for sex differences in driving. Males, and women who have more masculine gender identities, have higher levels of testosterone, which has been linked to more risky driving behaviours such as speeding.

Another explanation is that men and women’s brains develop in slightly different ways. An area of the brain called the inferior parietal lobule, which is sited just above the ears, is responsible for the understanding and manipulation of spatial information, and this is significantly larger in men than women.

Having examined some of the research, what can we conclude about sex differences in driving behaviours? There does seem to be some evidence in support of men being more technically skilled drivers. This probably results from men being better at visuo-spatial processing than women. However, women are clearly safer drivers than men. This is evident in both the psychological research and the accident statistics.

As with most research into psychological sex differences, it is difficult to conclude that one sex is definitively “better” than the other. Instead, men and women have different driving talents and therefore each sex is better than the other in different driving situations.

Dr Victoria Bourne (BA Hons, DPhil)

Consultant to Driving Risk Management Limited