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When behind the wheel, men are more dangerous to others than women, study finds

The difference was striking. The British study found that per kilometer driven, the risk by men to others when they were behind the wheel of a car or van was double that of women.

man driving
The researchers found that men posed considerable more risk to the lives of other road users than women.
Photo by Luke Ellis-Craven on Unsplash

Male drivers are more dangerous to other people on the road than female drivers, according to a British study published Monday in the journal Injury Prevention.

And it’s not just because men tend to drive more miles than women. Even when the risk is adjusted for miles behind the wheel, men drivers pose a much greater danger to others.

Men are also more likely than women to drive vehicles that are particularly dangerous to others, such as semi trucks.

These findings suggest, say the study’s authors, that our roads would be considerably safer if more women were hired to drive big rigs and other transport vehicles.

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“Greater gender equity would have a positive impact on [vehicle-related] injuries,” says Rachel Aldred, the study’s lead author and a transport sociologist at the University of Westminster, in a released statement.

“We suggest policy-makers consider policies to increase gender balance in occupations that substantially involve driving, given the greater likelihood that other road users will be killed if men rather than women are driving or riding,” she adds.

Where the data came from

For the study, Aldred and her colleagues relied on several sets of British data — policy injury statistics, road traffic statistics, traffic survey results and demographic (including gender) information — collected between 2005 and 2015. They divided the data into six categories based on mode of transportation: cars/taxis, vans, buses, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles.

Then, instead of examining the data on the risk that different types of road users have of being injured themselves (as most previous research has done), the researchers looked to see how much risk each of the different modes of transportation pose to others.

They found, not surprisingly, that cars and taxis were involved in two-thirds of the fatalities to other road users. But when those deaths were examined by distance (kilometers) traveled, trucks and buses were more deadly — five times more.

Motorcycles were more dangerous, too, despite their smaller size. Per kilometer driven, motorcycles were associated with 2½ times more deaths of other road users than cars and taxis.

“Although they are such a small proportion of overall traffic, they are making a disproportionate contribution to fatalities,” says Aldred in a podcast that accompanies the study’s publication.

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Cycling was the least likely mode of transportation to harm others. It was linked to 1.1 other road user deaths per billion kilometers cycled — a rate three times lower than that that of cars and taxis.

Gender differences

The researchers then analyzed the data by gender. They found that men posed considerable more risk to the lives of other road users than women.

The difference was striking. Per kilometer driven, the risk by men to others when they were behind the wheel of a car or van was double that of women. Among truck drivers, the risk by men was four times higher, and among motorcycle riders, it was 10 times higher.

Men cyclists also posed an increased risk to others — one that was 2½ times higher than that of women cyclists.

Buses were the only transportation mode for which male drivers were not more dangerous to others than female drivers. The extensive training and monitoring of bus drivers in Great Britain “may neutralise gender differences in skill or behaviour,” explain Aldred and her co-authors.

Needed: a shift in our attitudes

The study involved only British drivers, so its findings may not be applicable to drivers in other countries, including here in the United States.

Still, there’s some evidence that male drivers in the U.S. are more dangerous to other people than female drivers. A New York City report from a few years ago found, for example, that 80 percent of motor vehicle crashes that kill pedestrians in that city involve male drivers.

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“We suggest policy-makers consider policies to increased gender balance in occupations that substantially involve driving, given the greater likelihood that [other road users] will be killed if men rather than women are driving or riding,” Aldred and her co-author conclude. “Currently there is major gender imbalance in such occupations, and reduced risk to others could be a co-benefit from increasing gender equity.”

The researchers would also like policymakers — and the public — to think about transport as a determinant of health. That means shifting how we look at safety issues regarding our roads and vehicles so that we focus on collective as well as personal risk — just as we do, for example, around the issue of secondhand smoke.

“People when they drive are not encouraged to think about the risks that they impose on others,” says Aldred in the podcast.

As this study’s findings underscore, it’s long past time that we did.

FMI: Injury Prevention is an open-access journal, so you can read the study in full on the journal’s website.