The Myth That Women Are Bad Drivers Is Rooted in Classism

Most drivers have heard the stereotype that women make the worst drivers at some point. Listen in to the water cooler conversations or even stand-up comedian routines, and you will hear jokes about female drivers and their poor car safety. It has sadly become a part of our modern society. What is the truth, though? Where did this whole idea of women being bad drivers come from in the first place? 

Women kept the cars driving

A woman driver competing in the 21st Traditional Off-Road Festivals event in Duzce, Turkey
A woman driver in Duzce, Turkey | Omer Urer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

At the turn of the 20th century, cars were new and only the toy of the wealthy upper class. Only men and women in the upper echelons of society could ever dream of being a driver. For that reason, there was little criticism of how well these women were driving

“As long as motoring was limited to wealthy urban women, there was little criticism of their ability as drivers. These were women of the high social and economic station, who made a vocation of leisure-time pursuits,” reports Smithsonian Magazine, “If they chose to spend their time motoring around the city rather than at home giving teas few would criticize. Such changes posed little or no threat to the established social order, and hence there was no need for a negative stereotype.”

In the 1910s, the prices of cars started to come down, and many men went off to fight in World War I. This left women as the primary drivers at the home front. This need for society to keep puttering along without many men created more female drivers. 

The middle-class brought criticism to female drivers

More women started gaining access to cars and driving in the 1920s. This was when the dropping price of vehicles allowed more middle-class women to gain access to driving. As said before the 1920s, only the wealthy could dream of owning and driving a car. 

Once the numbers of middle-class women grew, the threat to the status quo of society grew as well. Women were gaining freedom and access to new areas of society, and some didn’t like the changes. Painting women as bad drivers was an attempt to keep them in their place. For this reason, the negative stereotype of women drivers is very much rooted in class and wealth. 

Statistics tell the true story about men and women drivers

People may make jokes about female drivers, but the reality is that men pay more than women for auto insurance simply because insurance companies prefer women drivers, as reported by Vice. The truth is that organizations that watch trends in driving, such as the National Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), all have evidence that men cause more road accidents than women. Twice as many men died in car accidents than women between 1975 and 2015. 

A study by the IIHS reported, “Men typically drive more miles than women and more often engage in risky driving practices not using safety belts, driving while impaired by alcohol, and speeding.” The study also states, “However, females are more likely than males to be killed or injured in crashes of equal severity, although gender differences in fatality risk diminish with age.”

The University of Michigan also found that men drive about 60 percent of the annual miles on the road and women about 40 percent. For this reason, men are expected to be involved in more crashes each year. The researchers considered road conditions, equal driving skills, and various accident scenarios, such as one vehicle turning in front of the other, one vehicle sideswiping the other, and a head-on collision from both cars. 

Despite the negative stereotype of female drivers, Allstate makes it clear that “Your personal driving record and claims history play a much bigger role, which means a safe-driving gentleman can expect to pay less than an accident-prone gentlewoman.”

RELATED: Is it Safe to Drive After Surgery?