Men or Women: Who Are Really the Better Drivers?

Car crash
Car crash | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

In February of 2016, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released a report on gender-specific traffic deaths in America, segueing in with the fact that “many more men than women die each year in motor vehicle crashes.” It’s a fact that cannot be ignored, as studies from numerous publications prove that because men typically drive more than women and tend to engage in more risky driving practices, they stand a much higher chance of getting in an accident.

While semi-autonomous safety technologies continue to serve and protect better than ever before, the NHTSA reports that traffic accidents were up across the board in 2015, with testosterone-fueled hoopleheads leading the reckless charge. Findings show that men are far more likely to skip safety belts entirely, drive while impaired by alcohol and/or drugs, and speed, making crashes that much more severe than those involving female drivers. Nevertheless, females are still more likely than males to be killed or injured in crashes of the same caliber, even when gender differences in fatality risks diminish with age.

Bad drivers
Crashes by gender | IIHS

When looking at IIHS statistics, we discovered that both men and women traveled far more by car in 2008 than in 1995, and that the increase in miles traveled was 5% greater for women (13%) than for men (8% overall). While the rate of fatal crashes per 100 million miles of travel decreased a whopping 24% between 1995 and 2008 for both sexes, the stats shown here illustrate a very significant gap between men and women, as the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) is quick to illustrate.

According to the study, every year from 1975 to 2014, “the number of male crash deaths was more than twice the number of female crash deaths.” But the gap has has begun to narrow, due partially to seat belt laws, the widespread utilization of airbags, and active safety technologies in automobiles. During this same time frame from 1975 to 2014, male crash deaths declined by 29%, while female crash deaths only declined by 20%. On the flip side, motorcyclist deaths have increased among both males and females significantly since 1975, and have more than doubled for males since 1997.

Pile-up | Scott Olson/Getty Images

On the subject of men being more often involved in accidents, recent research from IIHS also shows that 71% of all vehicle crash deaths in 2014 were males. This means guys were responsible for 98% of large truck driver fatalities and 79% of large truck passenger deaths, 70% of all pedestrian deaths, 88% of bicyclist deaths, and 92% of motorcyclist deaths.

Men are a lethal weapon when behind the wheel, and as traffic fatalities in 2016 continue to climb, we foresee the odds being stacked against the male sex when the next report rolls around. Some experts say that huge part of why these statistics remain so skewed is because males tend to partake in risky driving behaviors more often than women, with automotive racing, off-road adventures, and a bigger penchant for freeway tomfoolery all serving as examples.

First person point of view of driving a car
Driving a car | iStock

Since accidents remain up significantly since 2014 due to low fuel costs, the rates of passenger vehicle occupant deaths per 100,000 people is also much higher among males than among females for every age group outside of the 0-15 year age range. Male passenger vehicle occupants 85 and older still retain the highest fatality rate, followed by males ages 20-24, and each year from 1982 to 2014, speeding continues to be the key contributing factor as to why male drivers are killed more often in motor vehicle crashes than females.

Hell, even the Department of Motor Vehicles warns that male drivers are risky business, which is why guys have to pay through the nose compared to females, as auto insurance companies calculate risks when determining premiums, and statistics don’t lie.

Studies show that as a whole, women are less likely to: get into a car accident; commit moving violations, like speeding and driving under the influence (DUI); buy sports cars that are more costly to insure; and drive as many miles as the average male driver.

Bad parallel parking job
Bad parallel parking job | Micah wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

But while things look unfairly stacked against the average male driver in the vehicular fatality and insurance arenas, reports paint a picture that is not all too flattering for female automobile operators either. Women still make a lot of mistakes behind the wheel, and although they may not always be as life threatening as the other sex, things like rashed wheels, broken bumpers, crunched tail lights, and swiped sideview mirrors are common female incidents in traffic reports.

Bloomberg reports that women continue to be the primary offender in the fender-bender field, highlighting a recent study that revealed that females were more likely to be struck while conducting maneuvers like turns at an intersection. The article also mentions that while male drivers still account for more overall accidents than women, technology may be shifting the balance the other direction, and not in a good way.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has discovered that teenage girls are twice as likely as teenage boys to engage in an increasingly common high-risk maneuver: texting or talking on the phone while driving. These findings support US News’ investigation into why “insurance premiums for teenage girls have risen by about $500 over the past several years,” even when Bluetooth compatibility is commonplace on most cars nowadays.

ABC News took a different approach to the subject in 2011, when it released an in-depth report that shows that crashes involving female drivers were “overrepresented” in five out of six crash scenarios. By looking at variations of crossing another vehicle’s path, side-swiping, turning in front of another vehicle, and head-on collisions, they were able to determine that when both automobiles were driven by women, crashes exceeded the expected frequency by at least 50% in two scenarios, and more than 25% in three others! Sourcing statistics unearthed by Johns Hopkins University, researchers were also able to prove that female drivers are often involved in more non-fatal crashes then men, and that after age 35 female drivers are at a much greater risk of wrecking than males.

Take the percentage of accidents in which a woman sideswipes another female driver to her left for instance, which came in at a whopping 52% compared to the expected frequency of 15.8%. This is in sharp contrast to a similar type of accident involving two male drivers, which was far lower at 22%. What’s even more frightening is the fact that if a female crossed the path of an approaching vehicle driven by another woman, the number of accidents was 50% above the expected level of 17%. All of this shows that although men remain the more lethal driver, women are far more likely to crash into one another and cause more minor traffic incidents, further enforcing our hope that autonomous cars can fix such issues once and for all. Take from that what you will.