Who belongs in the drivers’ seat in the on-road battle of the sexes?
When I was growing up, my mom was always the driver in the family.
This was a necessary evil. Each time she saw a potential hazard she slammed on the brakes jolting, the three of us forward and testing the functionality of the seat belt. She also constantly worried we had missed a turn. This was before the era of GPS, so I grant her that there was lots of opportunity for confusion.
Despite the mental and physical exhaustion caused by my mother behind the wheel, it was better than the alternative.
My father was not a rule follower, even when it meant breaking the law and risking the lives of his family. It was his way or the highway — particularly on the highway. My dad decided that it was easier to drive a car when you centered the hood of the car along the dashed yellow line between lanes. As a result we were like a giant, deadly Pacman driving down the Mass Pike, gobbling dashed lines like Pacman pellets. The blare of horns was constant, just like my mother’s white knuckles.
In 2010 the Institute of Advanced Motorists found that in heterosexual couples men were four times as likely to drive as women. Additionally, Amanda Marcotte wrote an article for Slate Magazine stating that men consider it emasculating when women take the wheel.
I don’t know what my father thought, but I thought his agreeing that my mom should drive might well have extended my life span from 10 minutes to 70 years.
In the early days of my relationship with my now-husband, Steve, he and I would defer to each other when choosing driver vs. shot-gun positions. We acted as if driving were the desired position and riding along was somehow “less than.” So I would “let” him drive, and he would both thank me and offer me a favor later to show his gratitude. It worked quite well for me.
As the years went on we accepted that he would always drive. On days that I had been out and about alone I would walk to the passenger’s side by rote, even when we were headed out together. He always seemed pleased. When the kids, used to be chauffeuring them about, would express surprise that I was driving while Dada was in the car, I told them honestly that I didn’t like to drive very much, and Dada did.
I worried a bit that we were perpetuating a commonly held stereotype about gender roles, yet this concern didn’t prevent me from staying on the passenger side. I told the kids stories about my childhood where my mother drove all the time, figuring they might chalk it all up as personal preference rather than a societal expectation.
Over the years my driving skills dimmed as my night vision got worse and I had less and less practice. Now I am worried about perpetuating another myth — that women are worse drivers than men. While neither Steve nor I have gotten into an accident with another car in the years we have been together, we have had a few dings and dents.
I seem to have a vendetta against trash cans near the driveway. I insist they are purposefully placed in my blind-spot.
There is a particular curb on Steve’s way home from hockey that he has driven over three times now. He describes it as jagged, jutting, and entirely uncurb-like.
But we remain tied at zero serious accidents.
According to the National Highway Safety Administration, men cause 6.1 million accidents a year, while women are responsible for 4.4 million. Perhaps this is because, according to the Federal Highway Administration, they drive 40% more than women.
According to the Traffic Safety Store blog:
“That means men drive about 30 percent more miles than women. Yet, they’re implicated in slightly less than 30 percent of car accidents. Men do cause more accidents, but they are actually less at-risk than women, by a small margin.”
This still leaves things a bit murky for me, continuing my entertainment with this debate.
And then there is parking. I am not just the worst in my family, but possibly the worst in the world. I can easily spot my car in a lot because it hangs so far out past the other vehicles. After observing this a few dozen times, I attempted to make a correction. I began pulling into spots so far that the parking blocks became one with my front bumper. So I stopped pulling in as far. Which resulted in me hanging out the back again.
Here the research also contradicts itself.
A popular study conducted in 2009 at Ruhr University in Germany indicates that my shoddy parking ability is a sign of the norm. When researchers on that study asked 65 men and women to park an Audi A6 by pulling forward into an empty parking spot, they found that women took 20% longer than men to position the car, which also ended up less centered in the bay than the cars driven by men and parked more quickly than men.
However, in 2012 a far more comprehensive study, under covert surveillance, of male and female drivers stopping in parking lots across Britain found the following:
“Researchers found that impatience caused many men to drive too quickly around car parks, meaning they missed free bays. Meanwhile, women’s slower approach meant they were better able to notice spaces, or spot when other drivers were about to leave.
More than three quarters of women were found to excel in their so-called ‘pre-parking pose,’ setting themselves up to pull into a space, compared to just over half of men observed.
Thirty-nine per cent of female drivers cleanly executed reversing into spaces, compared to only 28 per cent of men.
Men were much quicker at parking, taking 16 seconds on average against the 21 seconds women needed to complete the maneuver. However, the extra time paid off, leaving 52 per cent of women parked in the middle of each bay, compared to 25 per cent of men.
Recently Steve popped into the coffee shop where I was working for what I thought would be a quick hello. When he reached for my car keys I asked him where he was headed.
“Just to move the car,” he told me. “You are taking up four slots.”
I had arrived to an empty parking lot at 8:00 am. Now, around lunchtime, patrons were headed to the sushi spot next door.
The problem with staying between the yellow lines might simply be genetic. With no other cars in my way I had pulled forward enough to center the cross hatch of the 4 parking spaces under the belly of the beast.
My father would have loved my parking job.
Photo credit: Flickr/7y1YMd