When I get into the car with my husband, I am often frightened. And I know I am not alone. One of the most frequent complaints I hear from women is that they don't always feel safe riding in a car driven by their husband. And from men, a big complaint is that their wife doesn't even trust him to drive a car without giving constant instructions.
What is this about? Do all men drive awfully? Not really. Are all women nervous nellies? Not really. My husband drives just fine. In 42 years of driving a car, he has had just one accident, one in which he did not even dent the bumper of the woman who slammed on her brakes in front of him, mid-intersection, in rush-hour city traffic. That's it. He's driven fast, he's driven closer than I care to drive, he's changed lanes with less clearance than I like to give myself, and he's kept himself and his loved ones alive and well.
Per mile driven, men are 1.5 times as likely as women to be involved in a fatal accident. That's scary. But most of those fatal accidents occur to fairly new drivers; the risk tapers off over time. By age 60, men and women have the same risk of a fatal accident.
And this is only fatal accidents. Per mile driven, women are 1.16 times as likely as men to be have an accident reportable to the police and 1.26 times as likely to have one involving injuries. This difference does not taper off. In every age group over 25, women are the ones more likely to have a non-fatal accident while they are behind the wheel.
One reason I get nervous when my husband drives close behind other cars is that I am one of those women who has been following a bit too closely in heavy 30 mile per hour traffic and ended up part of a multi-car pileup. It was years ago, but it was unforgettable.
When I get nervous now, I close my eyes and pay attention to the sunshine on my shoulder or the music playing in the car. My husband may not take care while driving in the same ways I do, but there is plenty of evidence, years and years of it, that he does take care and that he takes even more care when he has his beloved wife in the car with him.
It matters to me that he loves me so much. It matters to him — and this is another real gender difference — that I respect that he is a man of his word and capable of providing the care he promised to provide. He needs no advice to keep me safe in traffic.
To any woman who feels truly unsafe riding in the car with their life partner, I say swap seats or drive separately. Don't ride with someone whose driving record, blood alcohol level, or drowsiness poses a real risk. But when you feel safe enough to get in the car, find another way to deal with your situational fears, because disrespect — failure to receive the love you are offered — only distracts the driver.
Statistics cited in this article come from a 1993 study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.