Let The Arguments Fly: Study Shows Women More Likely To Cause Traffic Accidents

Researchers find women are more likely to get into accidents with other women, even though females drive fewer miles than men

A University of Michigan study of 6.5 million car crashes will undoubtedly be the source of many tense discussions around the kitchen table if not Vegas comedy riffs, finding that an inordinate number of accidents happen when both drivers are women.

Insert your own tired women-are-bad-drivers comment here. And if you post this story on your Facebook page, get ready for a commenta-palooza.

Michael Sivak, the study's principal author and a research professor who studies human factors in car accidents, is hesitant to come out and say women are worse drivers than men. But since men drive more miles every day than women, the neighborhood sexist will have a field day with this little bit of data.

Using the General Estimate System data from a nationally representative sample of police-reported crashes, the researchers expected to find that male-to-male crashes would account for 36.2% of accidents, female-to-female would make up 15.8% and male-to-female would make up 48% of crashes.

Instead, they found female-to-female accidents made up 20.5% of all crashes, much higher than expected. Male-to-male crashes were lower than expected, at 31.9%, and male-to-female crashes were 47.6%.

Why the discrepancy? The study doesn't offer any hard reasons. Women and men may have different experiences with different driving scenarios, have different abilities to handle those scenarios, and may feel like there are different expectations on their behavior.

It's essentially a nature vs. nurture argument, saying gender stereotypes dominate driving behavior: In other words, men do most of the driving, and women, who ride along as passengers, are less experienced or confident -- thus prone to wrecks.

But there could be another reason, the researchers say, so they're not ruling out any possibilities.

Intersections are particularly troublesome for women: They're often t-boned on the driver's side while trying to make a left turn, or are hit on the passenger side while trying to make a right-hand turn, the research shows.

Those crashes could be caused by height differences, the study says, because women tend to be shorter than men and have a harder time seeing out the windows. This issue is becoming worse, not better, with modern cars, as designers have been creating higher in-car "belt-lines," the height of the door relative to the driver before the window glass begins.

But besides being shorter, women may also have some brain differences that work against them. Some studies show men are better able to perceive time and speed and can more easily rotate 3-D figures in their brains, skills which are helpful enough to overcome other risky behaviors behind the wheel.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's tough to get the usual third party experts to weigh in on this study. Consumer Reports said it would pass on AOL Autos request for comment. Ford Motor Co., whose executive in charge of environmental and safety engineering is a woman, also passed on commenting.

A Ford spokesman did say that women order safety options on their cars at a much higher rate than men. Turns out that's a wise decision.

Every academic study, even those peer reviewed, has supporters and detractors.

Rather than looking at the national Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS)-- which most safety advocates use because it is based on police-reported data from the most severe and most documented kinds of crashes, those that resulted in a death -- it uses the National Household Travel Survey for its mileage counts. That survey is conducted every decade or so, and asks drivers to keep a diary of their travel, which could be easily fudged. It also looks at a sampling of accident data from police records, which is not as comprehensive as the fatality database.

Plus, it doesn't mention the fact that women are more likely to be driving with children, who are among the biggest distractions in a car.

Sivak's research contradicts other studies like one in Britain that showed men take more risks and drive more powerful cars. That study also showed that although women also have their fair share of crashes, those accidents often happen at slower speeds, so they tend to be less severe.

Bottom Line: The University of Michigan study shows that crashes involving female drivers running into female drivers is higher than expected given the number of miles women drive versus men. While the study is interesting, and gives chauvinists and comedians fresh fodder to bash women drivers, there is plenty of room to challenge the study's validity.

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