The Stereotypes of Women Drivers:
From male conducted research
analysis from my perspective

Christine Tomooka
Psychology 459
Instructor: Dr. Leon James
April 28, 1994 (Revised)




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. Would 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 in to 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" (Berger, 1986: 257). Thus indicating that this image was to help and provide safety for women against the negative influences of society and for their benefit, as well as 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: 257-260). This indicated that women were of a different class from other people, having their main focus in life to care for their children, men and 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.
I disagree with Berger's stereotype of women, perhaps a few decades ago this idea of women would be accepted because of the way that society looked at gender. Being a woman in today's society, I know that not all women are delicate and many are good at making decisions in crisis situations, look at all the females in managerial positions. However, the stereotype of women has not changed much over the years, as more women entered the work force, for many, it was another responsibility as they focused their life on their children, men, home, and now, their career.


The amount of information on the first women drivers are limited. However, Loeper (1980: 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 established social order, hence there was no reason for a negative stereotype." (Berger, 1986: 258) This stereotype would be modified as the limitations of driving for women changed. Berger (1986: 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 "ill suited to drive motor cars without male companionship."(Berger, 1986: 259) This suggests that women were considered subordinate to men and complying to this ideation. The introduction of 'electrics' or battery operated automobiles would enabled 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. This experience revealed that women were not as weak or fragile as they were previously conceived to be.

I feel that this experience with independence stimulated women to be more independent, which in turn, disrupted the social status of society as men knew it. This in my mind could possibly have been the motive for men to initiate a negative stereotype about women to return the social status to the way that it was prior to the war.

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 wind- blown 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 to care for them. Berger (1986: Z62) 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 motivated me to research evidence to support this idea. This led me to different journal articles that did research on different aspects of driving and gender differences.

Furnham and Saipe (1993) did a study on "Personality Correlates of Convicted Drivers." In this study they indicated that accidents were correlated to certain personality types. Furnham & Saipe (1993: 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 convictions1, 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 ranging from aggression, law breaking and risk taking. 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 (1993: 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.2 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.

Tipton, Camp and Hsu (l990) did a self-reporting study on the usage of seat belts among male and female college students. Tipton et al. (1990: 543-544) used three samples of college students as subjects, in the first(I) 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 55X females with a mean age of Z0 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.3 Then based on their responses, participants were segregated into four groups: (A) seldom or never wear seat belts, (B) occasionally wear, CC) 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 males 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 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 constant variable except for a mean age of about 20 years, the number of participants ranged from 191 to 306 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 well their driving skills are, and to see if 'positive-self' judgment: recognize positive characteristic to themselves, or 'negative-other' judgment: by comparing others to be less able, is used.

McKenna et al.(1990: 47) used 99 subject: 58 males between the ages of 18 and 68 years with a mean age of 37 years, and 41 females between the ages of 18 and 61 years with a mean age of 37 years. In this questionnaire, the subjects were to make separate judgments of twenty different scenarios of their own driving skills and of the driving skills of the average driver. The order of assessment of scenarios was varied, as 55 subjects made personal judgments first and average driver second, and 44 subjects did the reverse. These participants also included estimation of their average weekly mileage and number of years driving.

McKenna et al. (1990: 48-50) concluded that there is a significant difference between male and female personal assessment of driving skills as males rated themselves higher than females. Of the twenty scenarios, these four: reversing, parking, judging width of vehicles, and navigating/driving in unfamiliar area, were given similar ratings for both personal and average driver assessment by females; though males still rated their skills higher. Yet, there was little difference between the assessment of the average driver by both males and females.

As a result of this research, I can suggest that men are more likely to have a higher self-assessment of their driving skills than women, though men and women have basically the same conception of the average driver. I think that this study has more validity than the others, in that the ratio of male to female is 1:1.4. There is a possible correlation between the self-conceptions that men and women have of themselves. For instance, it is not surprising that the males rated themselves higher than women did. Arkoff(1993: 395-396) states that in our society men tend to look at good qualities and assess them to themselves as women do the reverse and give credit to others. Suggesting that men, in general, would have a tendency to be overconfident of their abilities more so than women.

Researchers, Panek and Wagner (1986) did a study on personality variables in relation to moving violations in women. Panek & Wagner(1986: 209) used 170 female participants between the age of 17 and 72 years. There were approximately 25 subject for each 8 year period (e.g.: 17-24;Z5-32;33-40). They were divided into two main groups of young adult: 99 subjects with a mean age of 31.81 years, and old adult: 71 subjects with a mean age of 59.9 years. The participants were given the Hand Test, which would show a relationship between aggression and directive behavior, and a self-reporting driving questionnaire.

Panek & Wagner (1986: 208) results implied that in younger female drivers, personality traits of impulsivity could be related to accidents and lack of environment awareness/ attention are related to moving violations. For the old adult group there was high correlation between the questionnaires, accidents, and moving violations. They concluded that individuals who have a tendency to be dominant and assertive tend to have more accidents than individuals who are not. There is a correlation between accidents and individuals that have a tendency to influence and manipulate others.

As indicated in this study, it was a certain type of behavior that had a tendency to be accident-prone and the age of the driver. There is no sign of gender difference because only female subjects were used.

However, in Trankle, Gelau and Metker's (l990) journal article: Risk Perception and Age-Specific accidents of Young Drivers, they suggest that young male driver are more likely to take risks that lead to accidents than older male driver. Trankle et al. (1990: 120-121) had Z08 male participants and 100 female participants. The subjects ages ranged from 18 to 75 years. These participants were to watch 100 slide-presentation of traffic situations and indicate level of risk. These slides were from different two different perspectives: the driver's and general. As a result of Trankle et al. (1986: 121) research they found that young males between the ages of 18 and 21 reported lover levels of risk for situation presented from the driver's and general perspective more than middle-aged males between the ages of 35 and 45. However, they found no significant difference in females.

Trankle et al. (1986: 123) did discuss the difference in young males and females. Young females risk rating were fairly consistent to those of other females of different age groups, though rated higher than young males. Statistisches Bundesamt (1987) states that young male drivers are often involved in accidents caused by speeding and veering off the lane, whereas young female drivers are over represented in accidents at intersection or during lane changes. Thus, implying that males and females have accidents, the difference being the type of accidents that they are involved in.


In doing my research for this paper on the stereotypes of women drivers, I have found that much of the research was done by men. I thought that this was very interesting, that most of the results from these studies suggested that women were better drivers than men, or that they were about equal.

The history of the stereotype of women driver's is one that I feel is still questionable. I see some validity in Berger's ideas that the 'negative' stereotypes of female drivers were started as a means of keeping women in their place in the social status of society. This is evident as I look back at history of women. Traditionally, women held the role of the homemaker, mother, and wife; anything other than that role would not be tolerated or permitted, at least until recently. As there is a trend to invalidate these stereotypes of women as the feminist movement progresses.

Through the history of women drivers, women have proved that they are men's equal in many respects. However, male and female capabilities and hindrances can be seen as both are inclined to have accidents: as shown in Statistisches Bundesamt (1987), both male and females were inclined to have accidents though in different settings, and in McKenna et al. (1990) indicated that both males and females, rated their assessment of their own driving skills higher than that of the average driver. Indicating that males and females have things in common despite the gender differences. According to Popkin, Rudisill, and Waller (1988: 220) historically men have driven more than women, though this trend is slowly changing with the times, and the number of licensed women drivers increasing could possibly change the statistics of convicted number of males and females. The idea of male historically drive more, may account for the greater number of driving convictions for males.

I learned many interesting things about stereotypes of women and driving, mostly how each is untwined with the other. I saw how the stereotypes of men and women greatly influence their driving personalities. As indicated in Tipton et al.'s (1990) study that men were less likely to comply and internalize the usage of seat belts but women did. This is evident in society's socialization of females and promotion of independence of males. Therefore, in some ways, it is not surprising that more males, in general, are non-compliant to traffic laws and women tend to be. Traditionally, women have been taught to adhere to the rules and comply. However, this trend is slowly changing as more women are becoming assertive and willing to go against the norm and stereotypes.

I feel that this is the beginning of a new trend of drivers as certain aspects of driving will not be male dominated as more female drivers are being licensed. Also, as increase usage of aggression and assertiveness by women in all aspects of their life, I feel that this will indirectly influence their driving attitudes as well.

In conclusion, I have come to understand one possibility of how women attained the stereotype of being poor drivers or lacking the ability to drive well. I found evidence through articles that support the idea that women are equal in ability, if not better than men in driving ability. Most of all, I realize that sexism is still evident in many different aspects of society today


Berger, M.L. 1986. Women Drivers: the emergence of folklore and stereotypic opinions concerning feminine automotive behavior. Women's Studies Int. Forum, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp. 257-263.

Furnham, A. and Saipe, J. 1993. Personality Correlates of Convicted Drivers. Personality, Individual Differences, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 329-336.

McKenna, F.P., Stanier, R.A., and Lewis, C. 1991. Factors underlying Illusory Self-Assessment of Driving Skill in Males and Females. Journal of Accident, Analysis and Prevention, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 49-52.

Panek, P.E. and Wagner, E.E. 1986. Hand Test Personality Variables Related to Automotive Moving Violations in Female Drivers. Journal of Personality Assessment, Vol. 50, No. 2, pp. 28-211.

Pokin, C.L., Rudisill, L.C., and Waller, P.F. 1988. Female Drinking and Driving: Recent Trends in North Carolina. Journal of Accident, Analysis and Prevention, Vol. 20, No. 3, pp. 219-225.

Statistisches Bundesamt Wiesbaden (Hrsg.): 1986, Frachserie 8, Reihe 3.3, Stuttgrat: Kohlhammer: 1987

Tipton, R.M., Camp, C.C., and Hsu, K. 1990. The Effects of Mandatory Seat Belt Legislation on Self-Reported Seat Belt Use Among Male and Female College Students.Journal of Accident, Analysis and Prevention, Vol. 22, No. 6, pp. 543-548.

Trankle, U., Gelau, C., and Metker, T. 1900. Risk Perception and Age-Specific Accidents of Young Drivers. Journal of Accident, Analysis and Prevention, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 119-125.


1 Alcohol related convictions were omitted

2 Journal did not indicate how neuroticism was measured.

3 Note: questionnaire was administered on 3 separate occasions, each time to a different sample. (Tipton et al., 1990: 544)

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