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Examining the “Women Can’t Drive” Stereotype

March 25, 2019
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“I am strong / (Strong) / I am invincible / (Invincible) / I am woman.” You might recognize those lyrics from Helen Reddy’s 1972 hit “I Am Woman.” The song, which topped the charts in December 1972, gets a little extra play during this time of the year. National Public Radio recently included the song in its list of American Anthems, and it was the theme song of Shirley Chisholm’s groundbreaking – if unsuccessful – bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 1972. [1] The reason the song has special resonance in the early spring is that March is Women’s History Month. [2]

March is also the period in the calendar when people and organizations around the world celebrate International Women’s Day. The day, which is sometimes called IWD for short, has been celebrated on March 8 going back more than 100 years. [3] While many IWD observations in economically advanced countries focus on issues like the pay and wealth gaps between men and women, the annual observance also provides an opportunity for people to reflect on the progress of women around the world. Although women enjoy slightly longer life expectancies – on an average, global level – than their male counterparts, [4] this is generally understood to be in spite of many under-investments in women’s health. As attention in the United States and around the world has increasingly turned to the issues of sexual harassment and abuse, there is a growing awareness of how widespread the phenomenon of unequal and predatory treatment of women is.

The new de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia made international news in late 2017 when he announced that the longstanding ban on women driving automobiles would be lifted. [5] This was understood as one of a series of social loosenings in the country – including permitting movie theaters to operate – that signaled a new openness to the consensus around gender equality. The announcement fueled a fair number of Saudi-bashing tweets, [6] and some credit a comedian’s viral video with planting the seeds of this social change. [7] But no doubt the announcement also stirred up its share of stand-up comedy jokes trafficking in the old stereotype that women are inferior drivers.

The stereotype is not just old – the available data suggest that men are the greater menaces on the road. Men incur traffic citations at 3.4 times the rate of women, and they are involved in triple the number of driving under the influence arrests. The stereotype itself even seems to lack staying power – one survey found that a majority of women self-identified as the safer group, compared to a minority of men. [8]

Men account for more than 7 out of every 10 traffic fatalities. [9] An average of 2.5 men are killed in fatal car accidents per 100,000 miles traveled, compared to 1.7 women. (That’s a difference of 47 percent.) For teen drivers (ages 16 to 19), the figures are 9.2 teen-male deaths per 100,000 miles traveled and 5.3 teen-female deaths; that means that teen males are more than 74 percent more likely to be killed in an automobile accident as their female peers. [10] This gender gap has not gone unnoticed by the sector that profits from noticing these kinds of trends: the insurance industry. Women pay an average of 9 percent less than men for comparable auto insurance policies. Over the course of his lifetime, a man might pay $15,000 more for insurance coverage than a woman. [11] (Of course, women are estimated to earn some $530,000 less in wages over their lifetimes, so you might say that the premium gap more than works itself out… [12])

What insights do the actuaries have that lead them to believe that women are the safer bets insurance-wise? Well, in addition to the fatality data discussed above – recall that men overall die in car accidents nearly 50 percent more often than women on a miles-driven basis and that teen males exceed their female counterparts by nearly 75 percent – some aspects of men’s lifestyles make them more prone to accidents. Insurers charge higher rates for Wall-Street types than for researchers, likely based on the insight that those who take risks for a living may not leave that behavior at their desks when they get behind the wheel. [13] And insurance premiums fall as education rises; as it turns out, men are over-represented in the financial sector even though women’s educational attainment is now higher – both on average and especially at the highest levels – than men’s. [14]

All these facts and figures aside, we are still talking about correlation rather than causation. More important than leveling-out the rates of traffic accidents and vehicle fatalities between the sexes is trying to reduce the overall level of these tragedies for all people. Investments in next-generation automobile safety, new laws to hold risky drivers accountable, and continued social awareness of the unacceptable risks of driving while impaired or distracted can do much to lower the risk of traveling on the roadways. Just in Nevada alone, car accidents claim some 300 lives each year. [15]

If you or a loved one have been injured in a vehicle accident, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as medical conditions permit. After a consultation, you will have a better understanding of your legal options and the possibility than you can obtain damages or a settlement to help you heal, recover, and move on with your life.

 [1] https://www.npr.org/2018/10/24/651795560/i-am-woman-helen-reddy-american-anthem-hear-them-roar

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_History_Month

[3] https://www.internationalwomensday.com

[4] https://www.who.int/gho/mortality_burden_disease/life_tables/situation_trends_text/en

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/26/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-women-drive.html

[6] https://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/the-wrap/article/Saudi-Arabia-s-Decision-to-Let-Women-Drive-122...

[7] https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/10/no-woman-no-drive-viral-video-saudi-arabia-hisham-fagee...

[8] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/men-vs-women-who-are-safer-drivers

[9] https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/qvdpgv/people-think-women-are-worse-drivers-than-menstatistic...

[10] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/men-vs-women-who-are-safer-drivers

[11] https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/qvdpgv/people-think-women-are-worse-drivers-than-menstatistic...

[12] https://fwa.org/women-lose-how-much-money-in-their-life-due-to-the-gender-pay-gap-50000-guess-again

[13] https://www.trafficsafetystore.com/blog/who-causes-accidents

[14] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-08-06/u-s-women-outpacing-men-in-higher-education-demog...

[15] https://www.apnews.com/3c43c1ae9c074876ad778855df6158fb






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