Are women drivers better than men?

Car Culture Car Safety Driving
Are women drivers better than men? Ask The Car Expert!

It’s a typical slow-news-day kind of story – are men or women drivers better? There have been numerous ‘reports’ that suggest one way or the other, based on various (usually questionable) criteria. In fact, since contemplating this blog in the last week, I’ve already read three different articles which question the relative merits of males and females behind the wheel. But can we really say that women are better drivers than men or vice versa?

In short, no we can’t. There is no physical reason why men and women should drive differently. Years ago, before power steering and automatic transmissions, you could have made an argument than men coped better with the physicality of driving, but that has not been the case for a long time now.

Usually debates about the merits of men and women behind the wheel revolve around invalid assumptions or highly selective statistics. And while there might be no physical reason why men and women drivers should be any different, The Car Expert has seen plenty of male and female drivers over the years to suggest that there are differences, and suggests some reasons.

Firstly, while it is technically correct that “men have more car accidents than women” and “men get more speeding fines than women”, it is less of an issue when you take into consideration that there are far more men on the road than women, and they also tend to drive longer distances.  So in percentage terms, the number of men getting caught for speeding and having accidents is not so different to women.

There are other factors at play as well – although before you start with the hate mail, bear in mind that these are generalisations, and based on many years of observations and anecdotal evidence rather than objective scientific data:

  • when couples (one man, one woman) travel together, it is more likely that the man will drive. On longer journeys, the man usually does more of the driving than the woman.
  • The above is even more true when conditions are more difficult (night, rain, snow, etc.) or they are in unfamiliar territory.
  • Single-occupant cars are far more likely to be men. Women drivers are more highly represented in cars with passengers, largely because they still share a larger load of chauffeuring the kids around than men do. This also has a massive bearing on driving styles, as will be discussed below.
  • Men and women tend to choose different types of cars, and men are also more likely to go for a higher-performance model of a certain car while women are less concerned about it. That at least partly explains the speeding tickets!
  • In social terms, cars tend to be a ‘guy thing’, which often means male drivers feel an expectation among their male peers to be competent drivers, with the result that bravado can often exceed actual ability. Women are less concerned about each others’ driving abilities as a measure of their standing as a human being, resulting in less bravado or showing off among friends.
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs seems to be a male-dominated activity. For whatever social or psychological reasons, men are more likely to choose to drive when they know they have drunk too much than women.
  • The only significant physical difference I have observed between men and women behind the wheel is that more women drivers have problems with spatial awareness than men (most evident in parking or negotiating narrow gaps)

Confidence is King (or Queen)

After years of watching other people test driving cars at dealerships, the single most important difference between men and women drivers seems to be confidence. Men, on the whole, seem to be more confident behind the wheel than women. This doesn’t mean that men are likely to have more or fewer accidents than women, but it does tend to mean they have different accidents. Having confidence makes you decisive, which means lots of good decisions and some bad ones, and more behaviour which may be considered ‘risky’. Lacking confidence means you tend to be indecisive, which means fewer good decisions, more bad decisions and often a lack of decision which moves a situation out of your control. However, it also makes your behaviour more ‘risk-averse’.

This difference in confidence leads to a difference in how drivers approach every aspect of their driving. For example, a more confident driver is more likely to travel at a faster speed, sit closer to the car in front (including tailgating), and continue driving under more pressure or in more difficult conditions (such as heavy rain or tiredness) rather than stopping. A less confident driver is more likely to hesitate at intersections and roundabouts, send unclear signals to other drivers about changing lanes and follow satnav directions rather than local signs or using their own judgment. Each of these situations can lead to an accident in the right circumstances.

As a car sales executive for many years, I got to sit alongside hundreds of complete strangers driving unfamiliar cars on unfamiliar roads, and it was confidence that dominated how the test drive went. Males, usually being more confident, would jump into the driver’s seat and go with much less hesitation than women. Often there was an element of bravado and even self-imposed pressure not to look like a bad driver in front of someone who saw lots of drivers (not that I actually cared, unless I was worried for my own safety!), especially among younger male drivers. With less confident drivers, usually but not always women, there would be much more hesitation, instant and abrupt following of instructions (eg – “change lanes somewhere along this road” would lead to an immediate lane change rather than a considered ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ at an appropriate time), and often apologies for their “bad driving”. My job was part-driving coach and part-salesman in managing people’s driving behaviour by encouraging them to relax or warning them to slow down as required!

Baby On Board

Having kids on board usually causes a dramatic change in driving behaviour as well. Even the most ‘risk-taking’ drivers become a lot more ‘risk-averse’ as soon as the child seats go in. Although having said that, kids can be very distracting passengers, which leads to a whole different range of risks. The effect of other passengers varies depending on the demographic of the driver and passengers; young male drivers with their young male mates on board tend to take more risks than when they are on their own, whereas if a young male is driving his mother or grandmother, he tends to be far more careful. Women drivers appear more likely to be distracted by conversations with their passengers than men. Unfortunately there is very little scientific research available to develop these observations.

So, are women drivers any better or worse than men?

All of the above is based on my own observations, and generalisations based on my own years of experience. I could go on for hours with more anecdotal opinions about the differences between men and women drivers behind the wheel, but although there are clear differences between the average male and average female driver, I think that it pretty much balances out overall, and most drivers of both sexes could do with some more driver training and education – although men are less likely to admit that ;)

But what do you think?  Please leave your thoughts below.  Do you think women drivers are ‘safer drivers’ than men?  Or are men ‘better drivers’ than women?

Are men drivers better or safer than women drivers? Ask The Car Expert!

Stuart Masson

Stuart is the Editor of The Car Expert, which he founded in 2011, and our new sister site The Van Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the car industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.

33 Comments

  1. Kate Alderdice

    A more balanced article than anticipated…and I find it hard to disagree, but I guess my main question is, proportionately speaking, what are the %ages of male v female car buyers in an age where many more women have more independence and income?

    Reply
    • Stuart Masson

      The percentage of male vs. female buyers varies hugely depending on the car, and whether it’s a purchase for an individual or family. The last figure I saw quoted was that women make the final decision on about 87% of all car purchases.

  2. I think women would learn to drive easier if there were more women driving instructors. I have had 2 different guys and they were both horrible to me because I couldn’t reverse around a corner properly for ages. I would have loved a woman instructor but there weren’t any where I lived :(

    Reply
  3. I passed my test first time! And I’m the only person I know who did, boy or girl.

    Reply
  4. You should have a polls we can vote on who we think are better, would be nice to see what your readers think

    Reply
    • Stuart Masson

      Good idea Aaron, I should have thought about that before I wrote the blog! Will see if I can get one added…

  5. Anna C

    Well although it was hardly a controversial conclusion, you did make some good points. Although I personally am the exception to every statement as I like cars more and am a better driver than most of the guys I know :)

    Reply
  6. Men are much better drivers than women. Most of the time, men crash trying to avoid womens stupid driving!

    But seriously women can’t drive. THey can’t even park.

    Reply
    • Stuart Masson

      You’re playing with fire there, Richard.

  7. I find driving with my children much harder than when I am alone. The noise, nagging questions and constant fighting is a huge distraction and I know it affects how I drive. My husband just yells at them and they quieten down, but that doesn’t work for me and I don’t like yelling at them anyway so I just put up with it.

    Reply
  8. For what it’s worth, I think my wife drives better than I do. Her mother, on the other hand…

    Reply
  9. @Richard – Thanks for your contribution. Idiot.

    Reply
  10. I think it changes as you get older. Young men (well, teenage boys really) are the most dangerous road users IMHO. As they get older, those who haven’t killed themselves seem to develop into better drivers while women might start off better when they’re young but don’t develop as much. And as we get old, it seems that men and women both lose their driving skills at the same rate.

    Reply
  11. @Richard I wouldn’t be surprised if on the road isthe only place you get to interact with any women anyway

    Reply
  12. The whole issue is a media beat-up. As the blog says at the start, there’s no difference and it’s just a slow news day story. Individually there are just as many good and bad men and women so why argue about it and why feed trolls like Richard?

    Reply
  13. @Richard, you’ve just proved that you have no idea about women. I assume that it applies in all aspects of your life and not just on the road.

    Reply
  14. Richard, mate, we all think it but we’re not supposed to say it!

    Just joking ladies… ;)

    Reply
  15. in india there are very few women drivers, i think this is a good thing as traffic is bad enough as it is without women drivers making it worse.

    Reply
    • Stuart Masson

      Ajay, I haven’t driven in India myself, but I’m pretty sure that your biggest traffic problems over there are not related to whether the drivers are male or female…

    • Stuart it does matter the driver is men or women in india. I strongly back ajay coz of my experience here in India. As you said in your article about the confidence.here, the lag in confidence creates a panic in drivers irrespective of genders. But unfortunately its skewed towards female in India that too in metros. When they got tensed the decision making is poor e.g mess in the midst of traffic while starting the car(adrenaline rush works inside you to hit the vehicle in front when they start in hurry) will add further woe’s to the commuters standing behind. while in towns women are better drivers compared to metro’s due to less congestion in roads. this is the case in INDIA coz of our Road condition and increase in vehicles which fumbles to support it !!!

  16. I think it was well summed-up overall and an enjoyable read. There are as many good women drivers as men (as a percentage) and just as many bad ones. I just seem to have to deal with all the bad ones on my way to work every day! :)

    Reply
  17. I think there must be something else to it rather than just ‘confidence’. The number of accidents I have seen caused by women, even if they weren’t actually in the accident itself, is staggering.

    Reply
  18. Fair wrap overall, although there is definitely an element of ‘boy racer’ in young men which needs to be stamped out. Better driver education required, I think.

    Reply
  19. I foresee many more calamities for women behind the wheel for many years to come…

    Reply
  20. As you say, in percentage terms its pretty line ball who has more accidents. It sure seems like women are worse at the general skills of driving though, even if it doesn’t mean more accidents.

    Reply
  21. Personally I’d like to see better driver training for everyone, and re-testing as well. It seems ridiculous that you can pass a test at age 19 or 20 and have a licence for life.

    Reply
    • Stuart Masson

      Hi Jason,

      Agree completely, and that’s going to be a blog topic for the near-future, so keep your eyes on the site over the next few weeks!

  22. Finally, an honest article that doesn’t simply count the way in which “men are superior”. I’ve long said that bad drivers is equal between the sexes. I’ve also ween the comments that men have more accidents and tickets because there are more men on the road. But usually the original data used never comes with “Is that per capita or what?” If it’s per capita, that tells a whole different story.

    Yes, I’ve sat behind countless women in parking lots who can’t seem to back out of a spot without taking forever (and not backing up all the way… what’s up with that?)–and my own mother can’t change lanes without it turning into a scary “Is it safe? No, yes, no, yes… ” situation– but I’ve also sat behind guys on phones (as often as behind women *per capita*), guys in conversations (head turning sideways for each time he talks), guys hugging the line, guys going slowly in passing lanes etc etc. I’ve also noticed that men are more likely to NOT check before throwing a car into reverse or driving down an on-ramp (they tend to more go first, then look).

    I’m a confident driver who happens to be a woman. I’ve long noticed that the best drivers are confident drivers: Drivers who are paying attention, hands on the wheel, scanning the traffic conditions not just in front of the car but also 1/4 mile up the road and beyond (if possible), using the lanes for their intended purposes, using signs, etc. That’s a rarity in either sex. Every once in a while I encounter a kindred spirit on the road where we know to get behind the other because we trust the other will take an opening when it occurs so that the other car can follow suit.

    Reply
    • By the way I think there is something to be said for male skills going down hill because they assume they are good drivers so they are more likely to stop trying. A man is more likely to say that he particularly is safe at texting-and-driving because “I can handle it.” If that’s not a contradictory idea, I don’t know what is. Being a good driver isn’t just about potential skills (spatial awareness, etc). It’s also about actually applying those skills. One may have a propensity to be better, but if you don’t apply the natural talent, then you’re not actually good. Because in the end, when you crash into a family and kill them all except for the father, the father isn’t going to say, “Well, he was a better driver than all the other women out there that day..” Thanks.

  23. Both men and women can be equally poor at driving and can both be equally brilliant at driving, Maybe it is more of a social paradigm that pushes the idea of men being better, because it is a common ally and talking point, so this instills confidence in men and possibly knocks confidence in women.

    Reply
    • Stuart Masson

      I think you’re right. There is certainly a difference in most first-world western societies in how young boys and young girls are brought up with regard to cars, which I think spills over into their confidence and expectations when they start to learn to drive.

  24. Wow Catherine, bitter much?

    Reply
  25. Most women are very horrible drivers since they speed and tailgate so much.

    Reply

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