Women more cautious driving in winter: Poll

Next to men not asking for directions, the hoariest of automotive cliches is that women are the less confident sex behind the wheel – especially during poor conditions. Those who cringe at this stereotype should stop reading now.

According to a new survey of some 1,000 Canadian adults, women are indeed less assured on the road during winter than men. True to truck-commercial lore, fully half of males say bad driving conditions don’t affect them, compared to just 29 per cent of females.

If women feel less comfortable in severe weather, however, it’s not necessarily because they doubt their own abilities.

“The reason I get nervous is not because of my skills but because of all the idiots out there,” says Vicki Charron, of Edmonton. “They’re over-confident, they take corners too fast, or they just plain drive too fast. And the next thing you know, they’re trying to recover from a skid.”

Charron, believing the biggest culprits to be young males, suggests with a laugh that the answer is that “more men should drive like women.”

Bad weather will see more than a quarter of females (28 per cent) cancel plans and stay indoors, while only about one in 10 men (12 per cent) are as wary about hitting the road. Given the choice of being a driver versus passenger during inclement weather, just 59 per cent of women prefer to take the wheel, compared to 86 per cent of men.

Douglas Leighton, a Canadian expert on car culture, isn’t surprised.

“Driving is still seen, at least by men, as a very masculine activity. They want to get out there and show what they can do,” says Leighton, an associate professor of history at Huron University College in London, Ont. “Most women see transportation and driving in practical terms – a way to get around. And if it’s a bad day out there, they won’t drive if they don’t have to.”

Put simply, Leighton says where women see potential hazards, men see Mother Nature having thrown down the gauntlet, “and they want to rise to the challenge.”

A major Carnegie Mellon University study of U.S. traffic fatalities found men have a 77 per cent higher risk of dying in a car crash than women, based on kilometres driven. And though a correlation must not be assumed between being more likely to die in a crash and actually causing a crash, it’s nonetheless eye-opening that men fared worse than women in all age groups.

Here at home, winter-driving experts say the seasonal safety message is finally starting to get across, with both genders. Goodyear Canada’s Gus Liotta, citing data from the Rubber Association of Canada, says national sales of winter tires climbed nearly 40 per cent in 2008 and are up an additional 17 per cent as of October 2009. Last year the Quebec government made use of winter tires mandatory for its residents.