Are you better off in a car with a male or female behind the wheel? The answer: It depends more on the person in question, but on the whole you're better off with the female.
Last year, the New York Times published "Why You'd Rather Ride With a Woman Than a Man," part of a series by Freakanomics blogger Eric A. Morris on the differences in the sexes behind the wheel all over the world. The articles support the following statement: men are more likely to ignore traffic laws.
Morris writes that men are three times more likely to honk their horns, more likely to "rudely gesture at or verbally abuse other drivers" and more likely to be involved in tragic, massive accidents (on the road and off).
Surprise, surprise. I could have told you that just from living six years on a Manhattan street two blocks from a strip of car washes, garages, auto parts stores and a gas station. It's not Lisa or Jennifer racing and leaning on horns below my bedroom window at 3:30 AM during the summer, nor is it Betty whose front fender is half an inch from my rear end when I'm stuck behind a dented minivan doing 40 MPH on the West Side Highway.
Growing up in a two-car family with two working parents, it was always better to ride with mom, who only had one fender-bender during my entire childhood.
Dad, on the other hand, was probably one of the worst drivers in the state of New York, but not because he was aggressive, competitive or a risk-taker. He was just, like many drivers, clueless. When he lowered the car radio's volume knob, twisting it to the left, the car would veer over the double yellow line; if he raised it, the car would wander right towards the guardrail or the woods.
As it turns out, Dad might have been an anomaly. The data shows that the reason why men tend to break the rules more is an ingrained sense of biology, reaching back to early concepts of male and female roles. The male brain, hard-wired to hunt and kill, favored the bold and the brave.
The Times piece goes on:
These behaviors are deeply ingrained. Researchers Leda Cosmides and John Tooby describe our prior existence as "a camping trip that lasted an entire lifetime, and this way of life endured for most of the last 10 million years." In comparison, the auto arrived a blink of an eye ago, and we have not had time to evolve a new set of behaviors for coping safely behind the wheel.
Today, men are found to drive faster overall, ignore traffic laws more often, take more (and greater) risks and are involved in the majority of fatal crashes around the globe. The data in the Times article bears this out, although some of the research cited dates as far back as 1986.
Anecdotal evidence is readily available, but both sides seem to know the truth. Small business owner Anina Young lets her husband Mark drive, but not without reservations.
"I don't think he's a very good driver," said Young about her husband. "But I accept it or I would go crazy. Overall, I think women are better drivers."
Young's perspective is particularly useful for us because she actually had training being a bad driver. Years back she was trained as a stunt driver -- someone who willingly flipped cars and took corners at high speeds.
"I'm a very fast driver but I am a safe driver," she said.
She prefers females when taking cabs, car services and airport shuttles as well.
"Women cab drivers aren't going to hit on me and they pay attention," she said. "In cabs, male drivers are eating or are on the phone a lot of the time. I'm 100 times happier with a woman driving when I've got my three-year-old with me."
The good news carries with it no inherent sexual battle, however. According to the institute, deaths have gone down among both male and female passengers as well as pedestrians and bicyclists.
A version of this article was originally published April 3, 2010.