The next time you’re taking a road trip with the opposite sex, there’s some new information for conversation in place of backseat driving talk, arguing over what direction you’re headed, and whether you need to stop for directions or not.
According to an MSNBC.com survey of consumers and after examining the statistics, MSNBC.com concluded that women are safer drivers than their male counterparts. The study determined that about 80% of auto accidents — especially those leading to fatalities — are caused by men. Additionally, the majority of violations cited in the last year were given to men.
This of course brings up the age old question of whether men or women are the better drivers. This provokes two questions though:
- Are women better drivers than men, or just safer drivers?
- Does ‘safer’ mean ‘better?’
Regarding the latter, it would appear that it does in this situation.
According to the book, “Why Men Don’t Listen and Why Women Can’t Read Maps,” by husband and wife authors Barbara and Allen Pease, men and women actually have naturally occurring strengths in their eyes according to different physical factors resulting from evolutionary needs. Men have more ‘cones’ in their eyes, which enables better focus and central vision, as well as stronger depth perception, which explains why there may be more male race car drivers than there are women drivers. On the other hand, women have more ‘rods’ in their eyes, which gives them stronger peripheral vision and the ability to see well in the dark.
According to the studies the Pease duo cited, these are simply evolutionary aspects created over time, based on the needs of each sex. They propose that women were ‘keepers’ of the ‘family fire’ dating back to the days of cavemen, and therefore developed the ability to see better in the dark. Women also developed excellent peripheral vision to keep sight of several things at once, such as their children and surrounding environment. We now refer to this as multi-tasking, but according to these studies, these stronger ‘abilities’ have been evolving for a very long time.
Men on the other hand have stronger ‘center vision,’ meaning their eyes are more focused on what’s in front of them, such as the road. This ‘evolutionary’ characteristic is derived from the old ‘hunters and gatherers’ idea—since men were the hunters, they had to be able to focus on targets at a long distance and not lose sight of them.
MSNBC reports that according to their consumer survey and the statistical information reviewed, men are more likely to cause an accident and when it comes to serious violations, men receive DUIs three times more than women do. If men have such strong center vision, why are they causing 80% of serious accidents and receiving the most violations? What can be concluded here is that men have the ability to be better drivers, but perhaps are just more reckless in general than women when it comes to their actions.
One reason women could be safer drivers is because they can perhaps better avoid an accident than men. Many accidents could be prevented if drivers could better see what’s approaching from the sides, and the stronger peripheral vision women have could play a large role in this. Perhaps this is what accounts for women’s lower number of fatal car accidents.
However, men may have the advantage when it comes to hugging a curve due to their highly evolved ‘tunnel vision.’ The new study may show that while men are ‘designed’ to hug curves better, it doesn’t mean they’re successfully doing so since they have a higher occurrence of accidents. Men do have their own set of strengths though– men to tend to be better at navigation (perhaps attributed to their need to find their way back after a day of ‘hunting’) and also at keeping their eyes focused on the road.
There’s another theory as to why women tend to be safer drivers, and it’s due to precious cargo—children. It is 2013, so it may sound sexist, but according to “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps,” women tend to drive more cautiously because they’re more likely to have children in the vehicle.
Insurance companies even factor in the sex of a driver before even looking at one’s driving record. On average, men pay more in insurance premiums than women. According to the Insurance Information Network, men pay approximately $1,520 a year in premiums while women pay just under $1,400 a year. Some states, like Virginia, even have very specific laws acknowledging the differences in male and female drivers. In Virginia, a woman is considered a ‘youthful driver’ until age 25 or until married, whereas men are considered youthful drivers until age 30 or until married. Of course, being rated as a youthful driver has a very large effect on premiums. Apparently, Virginia believes it will take five extra years for a man to be less of a risk to an insurer than a woman, or that once someone marries, they’ll become more responsible drivers. This law partially supports the theory that having children in the car equates safer driving, as Virginia may be assuming that the likelihood of children being in the car is greater after marriage.
The question of what sex is the better driver will continue to be debatable in the battle of the sexes. Whether men are better drivers can certainly be challenged by the numbers of MSNBC’s consumer study, but according to science, it may not be men’s fault. Women may not necessarily be better drivers by nature, but just be better drivers by being safer drivers. If the studies Barbara and Allen Pease cite are accurate, women may be safer drivers by nature due to evolutionary, physical characteristics aiding them while driving, although more practical reasons such as having children in the car could also explain the extra caution some women exercise.
Regardless of a driver’s sex, everyone should be exercising caution when it comes to driving. Perhaps higher levels of testosterone are to blame for men’s more reckless nature, or perhaps the age old theory that girls mature faster than boys is at play here. Numbers don’t lie though, and there’s no debating the fact that men have higher incidents of accidents and violations.
If evolution caused our eyes to evolve due to current needs, then perhaps 2K years from now men will have better peripheral vision, and women will…well, continue doing whatever it is they’re doing on the road. Take note though — that isn’t an excuse to apply mascara in the rearview mirror while driving or chat it up on a cell phone. Let the debates begin…
Follow Desiree Baughman on Twitter @DesireeBaughman.