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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Gender differences, Part IV: Driving

When I was in college, a friend once told me that a man is more likely to get into an accident while driving 90 miles per hour drunk, whereas a woman is more likely to shear off the side of the garage wall while trying to back in. At the time, I, thanks to my expensive education, had the wisdom to realize that such talk was just sexist nonsense.

But life has a tendency to force us to unlearn much of what we were taught in school.

The key gender difference in driving is probably that men are simply more comfortable behind the wheel. This is both good and bad.

Women tend to grasp the wheel with both hands and stare grimly ahead. Men often use just two fingers, and their attention is easily distracted from the mundane chore of steering. Men will open up a soda can, phone someone, change the CD, search for their favorite color in a bag of M&M's, read a map, or even do a crossword puzzle while driving. If conversing, a male driver may look at his passenger for several seconds before glancing back at the road.

I've actually been in cars where the woman driver has said, turn that music off, I have to concentrate on my driving. A male driver will fiddle with the radio himself until he finds a song to his liking. When that song is over, he will then focus most of his attention on the dial again till he finds another song he likes. 

Men also get distracted by things outside the car. How many times have you been in a car where the male driver has to turn completely around to check out a woman on the sidewalk?

If you suggest alleviating the boredom of a long trip by suggesting a contest to see who can spot more deer, a woman driver will likely reply, "No fair, I'm driving." A man will say, "Sure."

Women find driving exhausting. Men find it relaxing.

Women see cars as a necessary evil. Men  see cars as an extension of their personalities. You never see a middle-aged woman taking her 1967 Pontiac GTO out for a weekend spin. Men fall in love with the cars of their youth; women don't get fixated that way.

Both sexes prefer cars which emphasize their gender. Men never fall in love with Mazda Miatas, Volkswagen Bugs, or Austin Mini Coopers. And you never see a woman tooling around in a Hummer or Ford 150 pickup.

Women tend to pay more attention to niceties like speed limits and stop signs. At stop signs, they often come to a complete driver's license test-style halt. (This has occasioned many mutterings of "women drivers" by the men behind them.) Men tend to specialize in the "rolling stop," which might be more accurately characterized as "slowing down only slightly."

On the other hand, women tend to pull out into a street with scant concern for the flow of traffic. And when waiting to pull onto a thoroughfare, they tend to do so with the front half of their car already sticking out into the right hand lane. As drivers, women are far more likely to rely on others' good will.

When women approach a green light, they will slow down and watch for it to turn yellow, in order to be able to stop. If men see yellow, they speed up so that they only have to run the red light by a second or two.

When women make a right turn, they often swerve wide to the left before doing so. Women are more likely to step on the gas right before coming to a red light or stop. And women get flustered by having to drive near a truck.

But the most egregious sins are committed by male drivers.

Men speed. Men tailgate. And men are far more likely to drive drunk, each of them secure in the knowledge that he is the only one who can still drive safely after eight beers.

Road rage is the exclusive province of men. I have yet to hear of a woman shooting someone over a traffic incident.

When you see those caravans of cars racing each other down a highway, it's always young men.

All that is wrong with men drivers can be summed up by the absurdity of the following story. You're watching a high speed car chase on a cop show. A bank robber smashes into the police car, then speeds off, going 80 miles an hour the wrong way down a highway. Several cop cars tail the car, sirens wailing and lights flashing. They tell the robber to stop over loudspeakers, but the getaway car continues to speed away. The criminal then careens down an embankment, and speeds off at 60 mph down a residential street. A police sharpshooter eventually manages to shoot out the tires of the getaway car. But the robber continues to drive for another mile just on the rims. Finally one of the police cars is able to bump the car in such a way that it spins out. It is immediately surrounded and blocked off by three squad cars. Several policemen approach the car with their guns pointed at the driver. The driver's door slowly opens, and the criminal emerges, hands up. The police are all yelling, "Get down on the pavement and put your hand behind your head!!"

She does so.

What was wrong with that picture?

(By the way, if you were surprised by that ending, you're every bit as "sexist" as I am. Congratulations on having traded in your school brainwashing for a real education.)


Anonymous said...

John, when are you going to post about gender differences at the ATM?
PS I have observed a growing number of young women, particularly in urban settings, behaving much more like the way you describe men. In fact I think insurance risk rate differentials are now closing between the genders in the younger demographic.

John Craig said...

G --
At the ATM? The only difference I've noticed there is that men tend to take out larger amounts, less frequently, compared to women. What have you noticed?

I haven't lived in an urban setting for a decade and a half, honestly haven't noticed the change in female driving behavior you describe.

Anonymous said...

This is actually very compelling:

"Twenty years ago, young female drivers paid about 46 percent above the base adult rate for auto insurance, while young male drivers paid on average 187 percent above the base rate. Today, while inexperienced young male drivers continue to pay about 185 percent above the base rate, similar groups of women now pay 115 percent above the average base. As motorists grow older and gain more driving experience, these rates typically decline."

Something is going on with young women.

John Craig said...

G --
That is an interesting statistic. But I don't think human nature is changing. It may have something to do with increased drinking rates among young women, or, even more likely, the ubiquity of the cellphone, used both for talking and texting purposes.

Anonymous said...

Based on years of close observation, I have noticed that the genders act differently while waiting in the ATM line. The men generally have their card ready by the time they reach the head of the line. In contrast, the women generally wait until they reach the head of the line, and then spend time digging around in their bag/purse for the card. John, can you please explain the evolutionary basis for this difference in behavior?


PS My observations have been predominantly of ambulatory ATM behavior. But I have noticed a similar phenomenon in vehicular ATM behavior - there is very often a mysterious lengthy pause when women reach the ATM at the head of the vehicle line before the transaction proceeds. Since I have not made direct observations of intra-vehicular activity in these cases I can only postulate that it represents the same phenomenon as in the ambulatory setting.

John Craig said...

G --
Very astute comment. I hadn't even thought of that difference. I can't think of a good evolutionary reason why that would be so. But it does fit in with the "relying on others' good will" aspect of driving I described.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comment concerning the behavior of women drivers. Some of the most dangerous moves I've ever witnessed are by women drivers trying to shuttle their kids to some activity on time. And talk about tailgating -- women are the worst!

John Craig said...

I seem to be outvoted here.

OK, I accept that.

Anonymous said...

Why do people tailgate? I get that it's a form of intimidation, but I still don't fully understand the psychology of it. I've had it done to me before on a long, straight piece of road where I was driving 10mph slower than the speed limit (I was trying to conserve fuel). The driver was obviously trying to intimidate me into driving faster, but why not just overtake me instead? There was no one else coming the other way, so it was safe for him to do that. Is it likely that he some sort of a sadist or something?

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
When people do it on a superhighway, I always assume it's to get the people in front of them to move into a slower lane. But on a road like the one you were on, there's absolutely no excuse. I can only assume that driver was expressing his inner rage about something. Or, as you say, is a sadist.