It’s a long-perpetuated stereotype: women are bad drivers. In popular culture they are seen as erratic, nervous, and distracted, and they just plain can’t handle a large piece of machinery like a car. But statistics show otherwise. According to a large 2007 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, women are actually much safer drivers than men.
The odds that a female driver will be involved in a crash that results in an injury in a year are 1 in 77.38, while the same odds for a male driver are 1 in 59.92. For crashes that cause fatalities, the difference between the sexes is even more striking: the odds a female driver will be involved in a fatal car crash in a year are 1 in 7,361 compared to 1 in 2,526 for a male driver. And for all fatal car crashes, the odds that one of the drivers is male are 1 in 1.35 (74%), and the odds one of them is female are 1 in 3.89.
A 2007 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that more men than women die in car crashes each year. Men do tend to drive more than women, but this doesn’t account for all of the difference. The study found that men are more likely to be in severe accidents that involve fatalities.
The insurance industry has long been in on this secret: men, especially young men, are generally considered higher-risk drivers than women. Why such a difference between men and women? Experts say that men drive more aggressively, take more risks, and are more likely to drink while driving.
According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), car accidents not only cause a great deal of injury and death—nearly 43,000 deaths per year in this country—but they also come at a high cost to society, an estimated $162 billion in the US, which amounts to $1,051 per person. If more women took the wheel, it might be a benefit to all of us.
Of course, these numbers don’t tell us anything about who gets lost while driving more often, nor can they reveal who stops to ask for directions and who refuses. So there are some gender stereotypes that will have to live on.