July 7, 2010

Road Trip Philosophy – Caution! Woman Behind the Wheel!

I have been known to complain about bad drivers. And now that I am commuting a half hour to and from work every day in addition to my road trips, I have started complaining a lot more about bad drivers. But I’ve never really thought that the inability to use a turn signal (my biggest pet peeve) has anything to do with chromosomes.

But apparently, I’m wrong and a bad driver because I’m a woman behind the wheel. I recently read this letter in Ask Amy:

Dear Amy: My wife and I recently returned from a 1,700-mile driving vacation. We traveled dirt roads, back roads, paved roads and freeways. One constant through the trip was that female drivers follow too closely! More than 20 times I pulled off the road to let a female driver pass me because I was afraid of a rear-end accident. Not one time was it a man driving.

I am convinced that women do not understand the physics, the dynamics or the technologies related to automobile operations and all the things that can go wrong to a vehicle while driving. Deer, an accident ahead, a sudden stop or a look away — and there is no time left to react.

My wife drove for 50 miles, and I was afraid for my life. I constantly asked her to slow down or give the car ahead more room. After 50 years of marriage, this is the only thing we argue about. Why won't she change? She is quite intelligent in most other matters. I know this sounds chauvinistic (I also have three daughters), but I don't mean to be. I need your help. — Worried

I have thought about itemizing every obnoxious and sexist statement in this letter, but then I realized that it was easier to post it in its entirety and let you see for yourself. I also want to include Amy’s very polite response:

Dear Worried: There is no question that following too closely to the vehicle in front of you doesn't leave a driver enough time to react, but in terms of your gender-based observations, national highway accident statistics show that male drivers are more than twice as likely to die in an auto crash than female drivers. Women are catching up, however — their fatality rate is rising, while that of men is falling. You and your wife could both benefit from taking a safe driving course. You can check AARP.org for details.

Well isn’t that nice. Amy does a good job using the facts to disprove Worried’s sexist assumption that women cause all car crashes. But I think she could have used a little more sarcasm. And so I have crafted my own response:

Dear Worried: While I understand a world where women are permitted to drive and even travel without a chaperone is frightening, I must remind you that this is 21st century America. Women are now allowed to vote, have careers, and drive a car. It’s brave new world, sir.

Secondly, because you have been married for 50 years, it is obvious you are at least 65 years old. While you seem quick to blame the women driving behind you for dangerous conditions on the road, you have completely forgotten that you, sir, are a much more dangerous driver. Drivers over 65, along with new teen-age drivers, have the highest accident rates per miles driven.

Statistics have shown that elderly drivers typically exhibit three behavioral factors that lead to more accidents and more fatalities: poor judgment in making left-hand turns; drifting within the traffic lane; and decreased ability to change behavior in response to an unexpected or rapidly changing situation.

Have you considered how you might have been driving? Was the driver behind you following too closely because you were driving 20 mph when the speed limit was 45mph? Was that a “rapidly changing situation” you found yourself unable to deal with so rather than confront your own driving capabilities you pulled over and blamed the nearest female?

Now I’m not suggesting the elderly shouldn’t drive if they are capable. I’m suggesting you shouldn’t drive. But don’t worry! I’m sure your wife will be happy to chaperone you around town. Heck, if she’s not going to be in the kitchen then the least she could do is cater to your transportation needs!

Signed, The Educated Vagabond

P.S. - I am intrigued by your theory women don’t understand physics. I have written to the estate of
Maria Goeppert Mayer to ask her family return her Nobel Prize for Physics. I mean, if a woman can’t understand how a car works then she obviously can’t contribute to the nuclear shell model of the atomic nucleus! I mean, who does she think she is? Marie Curie?

What do you think of Amy’s response and my response to Worried? What would you say to him?


1 comment:

  1. Looks like I wasn't the only one annoyed by Worried! Ask Amy published another woman's response to Worried:

    Dear Amy: As a woman, engineer and educator, I found "Worried's" comment about women drivers tailgating to be offensive and antiquated.

    His statement about women not understanding "the physics, the dynamics or the technologies related to automobile operations" is completely baseless, but perceptions like his continue to discourage young women from pursuing careers in certain areas of science and engineering.

    His narrated experience is a phenomenon called confirmation bias, which is selectively collecting or interpreting evidence with bias.

    Actuaries have been at this game much longer, and the insurance rates set for drivers are based on much more thorough and robust data than Worried's.


    Dear Christine: I find that "confirmation bias" fuels some of this column's most memorable letters. Thank you for poking holes in "Worried's" theory.