Data Project Report: Self-Witnessing of Driving

Part I

Index of Reports

The Stereotypes of Women Drivers:
From Male-Conducted Research
An Analysis of the Stereotype


Have you ever thought about why or how a stereotype was started and the reasoning behind it? I pondered the question of "how women got the stereotype of being poor drivers" and wondered what was the point to having this stereotype. Webster's Dictionary defines stereotype as "fixed or conventional notion or conception(Guralnik, 1987: 586). I suggest that the usage of this definition of stereotype and the question posed to imply, that women, in general, have the image of lacking the ability to drive well. Another aspect to take into consideration is who possesses these conceptions of women drivers; men or women or both. Could this be any indication of who started these opinions of women drivers.

Being a woman and a licensed driver, I have reason to be interested in what kinds of stereotypes other drivers possess of female drivers. From my own experience, I know that I have surprised people by my ability to drive in reverse and parallel park, thus suggesting that I do not fall into the stereotype of female drivers. Through my research, I found studies that justify the notion that women are better drivers than men.

Therefore, not all women drivers follow the preconceived image of a stereotype. Stereotypes are in many respects a generalization/categorization of a certain group of people.


Some of the traditional roles of women come from stereotypes of how women should be or how they should act. In Berger's(1986) essay on "Women Drivers," he writes about the stereotypic opinions of women in regards to automotive behavior; stating that these ideas of "women drivers" were "attempts to[both] keep women in their place and to protect them against corrupting influences in society, and within themselves(1986). Thus indicating that this image was to help and provide safety for women against the negative influences of society and for their benefit; also supporting the idea that women are lacking in the ability to care for themselves against outside forces.

Berger(1986) states that the stereotype consisted of the idea that the delicate physical and emotional constitution of women, poor decision-making in crisis situations, a woman's place was in the home, femininity, cleanliness. (Berger, 1986: 257-268). This indicated that women were of a different classes from other people, having their main focus in life being to care for their children, men and their home. This aspect of women suggested that they were not capable of undertaking the responsibility of driving; as they may have the need to make quick decisions and according to this representation, they would put themselves and possibly others in danger.

History of Women Drivers

The amount of information on the first women drivers are limited. However, Loeper(1980: pg.53) states that the first woman driver was Genevra Mudge of New York City in December of 1899.

Driving was initially limited to the wealthy, thus implying that the number of women drivers would be limited affluent women. Berger states that this did not pose a threat to the establish social order, hence there was no reason for a negative stereotype(Berger, 1986: pg.258). This stereotype would be modified as the limitations of driving for women changed.

Berger(1986: pg.258) indicates that the introduction of the electric starter in 1912 and the First World War gave women the chance to learn to drive. From this opportunity, women proved that they were capable of driving and taking on the responsibilities of their male counterparts.

Prior to 1910's, there were no indications of negative stereotypes of women drivers. Based on the beliefs that women are clean and weak, they were not suited to drive motor cars without male companionship"(Berger, 1986: 259). This suggests that women were considered subordinate to men and complying to this idea. The introduction of "electric" or battery-operated automobiles would enable women to travel without the aid of a man(Berger, 1986: 260).

During the 1910's, women as a whole learned to be self-reliant as the First World War left women with the responsibilities to continue caring for the home in the absence of their male companions. This absence caused a need for women to learn to operate motor vehicles and travel further distances than allowed beforehand. In some ways elevating the social status of women as they proved that they could adapt to life without men. Thus revealing that women were not as weak or fragile as they were previously conceived to be.

Berger(1986) mentions other stereotypes of women and driving; some refer back to the initial notion of women, in reference to cleanliness and femininity.

Realizing that cars in the 1910's and 1920's were not the same as they are today, traveling by car was not very pleasant for many women. As they would not arrive at their destination in their best feminine appearance" (Berger, 1986: 260). They would arrive with windblown hair and dirty. The automobile being a piece of machinery was not thought to be feminine, in fact, maintenance of machinery, was thought to be a masculine task(Berger, 1986: 260).

This movement of the automobile as being masculine to one of a unisex nature, in certain aspects, would express reasons for a change in social status as women would not have a need for men. Berger(1986: 262) indicates that between 1940 and 1977, the percentage of women drivers would almost double." Thus, this would suggest that these negative stereotypes of women were instigated as a means of keeping women in their place.

Having come to the conclusion that these stereotypes of women drivers were invented to maintain the social status of society, has led me to reason evidence to either support these ideas or disprove them. This led me to different journal articles that did research on different aspects of driving and gender differences.

Furnham and Saipe(1933) did a study on "Personality Correlates of Convicted Drivers." In this study they indicated that accidents were correlated to certain personality types. Furnham & Saipe(1933: 330) had 73 subjects take part in this study: 25 males and 25 females, admitted to no driving convictions and 16 males and 4 females, admitted to driving convictions, between the ages of 19 and 61.

These subjects were given a number of questionnaires: Driver Behaviour Questionnaire, Zuckerman Sensation Seeking Questionnaire, and Eysenck Personality Questionnaire. Each questionnaire inquired about different aspects of driving. Driver Behaviour Questionnaire designed specifically for this study to measure driving factors and in 1977, the percentage of women drivers would almost double. Thus, this would suggest that these negative stereotypes of women were instigated as a means of keeping women in their place.

Zuckerman Sensation Seeking Questionnaire focused on behavior related to "Thrill and Adventure Seeking:" items which reflected a desire to participate in activities that have elements of speed or danger(e.g. outdoor sports) and "Boredom Susceptibility:" aversion for routine and uninteresting people. Eysenck Questionnaire used to measure psychoticism.

Furnham & Saipe (1933: 332-334) concluded from these results that the questionnaires indicated that convicted driver's scores correlated with higher scores on psychoticism, Thrill and Adventure Seeking, Boredom Susceptibility, and lower scores on neuroticism. Young males subjects with fewer years of driving experience, resulted in scoring higher on psychoticism, Thrill and Adventure Seeking and Boredom Susceptibility and having more convictions than females. Thus indicating that males were more likely to be convicted than females. From this research, a correlation can be made that men are more likely to have driving convictions than women, thus women in some respects are better drivers.

However, I am unable to make this assumption because the ratio of male to female subjects used was 4 to 1. There are four times as many male subjects used in this study, thus biasing the results that there would be more convicted males.

Journal did not indicate how neuroticism was measured.

Tipton, Camp and Hsu (1990) did a self-reporting study on the usage of seat belts among male and female college students. Tipton et al. (1993: 543-544) used three samples of college students as subjects, in the first sample of 306 subjects, 28% males and 72% females with a mean age of 19.5 years, who participated two months prior to the time a mandatory seat belt law went into effect; the second (II) sample of 191 subject, 45% males and 55% females with a mean age of 20 years, who participated two months after the seat belt law went into effect; and the third (III) sample of 255 subjects, 31% males and 69% females with a mean age of 22 years, who participated 16 months after law was in effect. Then based on their responses, participants were segregated into four groups: (A) seldom or never wear seat belts, (B) occasionally wear, (C) usually wear, and (D) always or almost always wear seat belts.

The results from this survey, report an increase in the usage of seat belts in both males and females when comparing samples I and II. Subjects who indicated that they occasionally wear seat belts from sample II and II showed that male subjects from sample III revealed a higher percentage that indicated they primarily wore seat belts because of the law. Females subjects from sample II showed a higher percentage that indicated they

{Note: questionnaire was administered on 3 separate occasions, each time to a different sample.(Tipton et al, 1990: 244)}

primarily wore seat belts because of the law. The results reveal a higher usage of seat belts, two month after the mandatory seat belt law went into effect by both males and females. However, there is a decline in usage by males and increase in females, 16 months after law was put into effect. Tipton et al.(1990: 543) state that it is possible that the reasoning behind these result are male students are more resistant to having their behavior standardized and less likely to internalize changes forced on them.

The information given must be interpreted very carefully as the participants for each sample were different, thus leaving no consistent variable except for a mean age of about 20 years. The number of participants ranged from 191 to 326 and the ratio of male to female was inconsistent in each sample. In concluding this study, I can determine that men are more likely to state that they wear seat belts because it is the law. However, there is some question as to the compliance of men, since the same subjects were not questioned for each sample therefore there is no proof of willing compliance or non-compliance to the seat belt law.

Research by McKenna, Stanier, and Lewis (1990) focused on the self-assessment of driving skills in males and females. This study centered on the self-reporting of males and females, how

Continuation. . .

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