Driver gender

Key facts

  • Men account for 73% of all worldwide road traffic deaths, three times the rate of women [1];
  • In Britain men account for 74% road traffic deaths, 69% of serious injuries and 57% of slight injuries on the roads [2];
  • Men drive twice as many miles per year, on average, than women [3];
  • In Britain, 81% of men and 70% of women have a valid driving licence [4];
  • Men make up 82% of cycling deaths and serious injuries [5];
  • Female pedestrians account for over half of journeys by foot in the UK (52%) [6], but men make up the majority of pedestrian casualties in the UK (55%) [7];
  • Three times more men than women admit driving under the influence of drugs [8].

Introduction

Road casualty statistics show a big difference between men and women when it comes to safety on the roads. Men are far more likely to be killed or seriously injured on roads than women, as pedestrians, cyclists and as drivers, and at all ages. This applies not just in the UK, but in the majority of countries worldwide: globally, men account for 73% of all road traffic deaths, with an overall rate almost three times that of women [9].

Some of this difference can be explained by the fact that men tend to travel greater distances per year than women do. However, studies have shown that even when this is compensated for, striking differences remain in terms of the number of men involved in crashes, and in the types of crashes in which they are involved [10]. The gender difference is also far more pronounced when looking at serious casualties than when looking at slight casualties, showing men have much greater involvement in serious crashes that result in death and serious injury: men account for 74% of road deaths in Britain, as well as 69% of serious injuries and 57% of slight injuries [11].

Attitudinal and behavioural studies show that part of the reason for this difference is that men tend to have a different mind-set when it comes to risk. This appears to be borne out in men tending to report and display more aggressive and dangerous driving behaviours [12].

Travel habits

Studies show that, on average, women travel more often than men but men travel further across all modes of transport. In England, men travel an average of 6,990 miles per year compared to the 6,082 miles covered by women. The biggest difference between men and women’s travel is in travel for work purposes, where men travel over twice as far on average [13].

When it comes to car travel, the average distance covered as a driver is lower for women of all ages, and the distance travelled as a car passenger is lower for men of all ages [14]. Men drive around twice as many miles per year, on average, than women (4,028 miles against 2,471 miles in 2018), with the difference in distance more marked among older drivers [15]. This gap is narrowing compared with previous years, as in 2013 women drove 2,291 miles compared with 4,209 driven by men.

Until recently, there were slight differences between seat belt-wearing frequency among men and women. In 2009, 98% of men always wore a seat belt while driving compared with 93% of women. By 2017, this difference had shrunk to just 0.2%, as 98.5% of men and 98.7% for women respectively [16]. Younger drivers aged 17-29 are slightly less likely to wear a seat belt, at 97.2%.

Approximately 81% of men and 70% of women in the UK hold a driving licence. These percentages vary by age however, with similar proportions of men and aged 17-20 holding a licence (37% and 38%), while only 54% of women over 70 hold a licence compared with 83% of men. [17].

Department for Transport show that, for other forms of transport:

  • In the UK, very few trips (2% of all journeys) are made by bicycle. Men cycle 2.5 times more frequently than women do, with 25 cycling trips per year compared with 10 per year for women. Men also account for 82% of cycling deaths and serious injuries, and young male cyclists are the most overrepresented age group, accounting for 30% of all cycling casualties [18].
  • Walking accounts for 27% of all journeys in Britain, and 3% of the distance that people travel each year. Women tend to make more walking trips than men: in 2018, the average woman walked 212 miles, compared with 207 miles for men. Across all severities, men make up the majority of pedestrian casualties in the UK (55%) [19].
  • Women make more bus trips than men across all age groups, whereas men make more trips on the railways [20].

Driver attitudes

In 2012 Brake surveyed 2,085 male and 2,291 female drivers and motorbike riders, questioning their attitudes to speed, drink- and drug-driving, distractions, testing and enforcement. It found that men are more likely to hold a range of attitudes that might be associated with dangerous or risk-taking behaviours, such as:

  • 51% of men think they are safer than the average driver, compared to 39% of women;
  • Women are more likely than men to worry about someone close to them being killed in a road crash;
  • Men are more likely to likely to think the speed limit is 'too slow' while female drivers are more likely to think it 'too fast' on motorways, dual carriageways and rural roads;
  • More men than women think the penalty for speeding is too harsh, while more women than men think it is too lenient. [21]

Male drivers tend to be more confident than women, even if the statistics regarding road deaths and injuries do not back up their confidence; for example, men are much more likely than women to think that their safety behind the wheel is above average [22].

Driver behaviours

A 2015 study demonstrated that it is possible to recognise the gender of drivers with a high degree of accuracy by analysing driving data. In a virtual driving simulation covering a 23.7km route, variables relating to speed, acceleration, lane departure, braking force, gas pedal pressure and steering angle were collected. Analysis of the data showed that acceleration was the most important predictor of driver gender, followed by speed, gas pedal actuation and measures related to the angle of the steering wheel. Aggressive driver behaviours, including sharp acceleration and speeding, was more closely associated with male drivers assessed during the study. Although the study was able to recognise driver gender from driving data, it concludes that the reasons for these gender differences in driving patterns remain unclear and should be investigated further [23].

In 1998, research by the University of Reading and the AA Foundation for Safety Research looked at the involvement of men and women in crashes to see if there were any patterns. The main study focused on speed; close following; gap acceptance; overtaking and hazard perception; and was followed up by a questionnaire on driver experience, sensation seeking, and attitudes to drugs and alcohol [24].

The study found that men were more likely to be involved in crashes on bends (a type of crash that is linked to speed choice); in crashes while overtaking; and especially in crashes that occurred during the hours of darkness. In all three types of crash, younger men had significantly more crashes than young women of the same age, with this difference decreasing with age. Of the situations looked at in the study, the only one where women were more likely than males to be involved in a crash was at junctions. This was particularly noticeable in right-turn crashes, with a difference of about 7% between men and women in young drivers. The number of right-turn crashes increased with age for both men and women [25].

A third study assessing driving style and accidents also hypothesised the concept of gender differences in driving styles. This was supported in that men scored higher on risky, angry and high velocity driving styles, demonstrating that angry, risky, high velocity and dissociative styles were associated with self-report of accidents. Women scored higher on dissociative, anxious and patient driving styles [26].

Driving offences

Data on driving convictions shows that men are more often than not the perpetrators of road traffic offences. Men possess 72% of all penalty points issued in the UK, or 7.7 million. Men are also convicted for 84% of drink-driving offences and 69% of speeding offences where points are issued [27].

Speeding is a major cause of death and serious injury on the road. In 2006, Home Office figures showed that 82% of speeding offences were committed by men [28]. A study in 2006 showed that women in the UK had a more positive attitude towards safety cameras than men, presenting a better awareness of their road safety benefits and collision-reducing potential, than their male counterparts [29].

Men are also more likely to drink and drive than women. In 2018/19, 6.8% of male drivers admitted to driving when over the legal alcohol limit at least once. In comparison, 3.8% of female drivers admitted to the same offence [30].

In 2014, a study revealed a recent increase in the number of women convicted of drink-driving (16% between 2006 and 2012) compared to the number of men convicted, which had begun to fall (24%). Women over the age of 40 were shown, proportionally, to have the highest rate of being caught under the influence than all other groups assessed, indicating a potential shift away from the more traditional understandings of drink-drivers [31].

Drug driving is over three times more prevalent among men than women. In 2018/19, 0.7% of male drivers reported having driven under the influence of drugs, compared with 0.2% of women [32].

End notes 

[1] World Health Organization (2020), Road traffic injuries

[2] Department for Transport (2019), Reported Road Casualties Great Britain Annual Report: 2018, table RAS30010

[3] Department for Transport (2019), Car travel factsheet: 2018

[4] Department for Transport (2019), National Travel Survey Car travel factsheet: 2018, table NTS0201

[5] Department for Transport (2019), Reported Road Casualties Great Britain Annual Report: 2018, table RAS30010

[6] Department for Transport (2019), Walking and cycling statistics, England: 2018

[7] Department for Transport (2019), Reported Road Casualties Great Britain Annual Report: 2018, table RAS30010

[8] Department for Transport (2019), Reported Road Casualties Great Britain Annual Report: 2018, table RAS51104

[9] World Health Organization (2020), Road traffic injuries

[10] Health and Safety Executive (2002), The contribution of individual forces to driver behaviour: Implications for managing work-related road safety

[11] Department for Transport (2019), Reported Road Casualties Great Britain Annual Report: 2018, table RAS30010

[12] SARTRE 4 (2012), European road users’ risk perception and mobility

[13] Department for Transport (2019), National Travel Survey Car travel factsheet: 2018

[14] ibid

[15] Department for Transport (2015), Understanding the drivers of road transport: current trends in and factors behind road use

[16] Department for Transport (2019), Seatbelt and mobile phone use surveys: Great Britain, 2017

[17] Department for Transport (2015), National Travel Survey, Car travel factsheet: 2014

[18] Department for Transport (2015), Facts on Pedal Cyclists

[19] Department for Transport (2019), Reported Road Casualties Great Britain Annual Report: 2018, table RAS30010

[20] Department for Transport (2012), Rail Trends: Great Britain 2010/11, DfT Rail Statistics Factsheet No. 1

[21] Brake (2012), Men vs. Women

[22] B. Degraeve et al. (2015), Social representation associated with men and women drivers among French adolescents and adults: effects of the perceiver’s age, sex and socio-economic status

[23] Stachl, C., and Bühner M. (2015), Show me how you Drive and I’ll Tell you who you are Recognizing Gender Using Automotive Driving Parameters, Department of Psychology/Statistics and Evaluation, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Leopoldstr. 13, 80802 Munich, Germany Available online 23 October 2015

[24] Road Safety Foundation (1998), Male and female drivers: how are they different?

[25] Ibid

[26] Westerman, S. J., Haigney, D. (2000), ‘Individual differences in driver stress, error and violation’, Personality and individual differences, 29, 981-998

[27] DPP Law (2019), Driving offences UK 2019 statistics

[28] Brake (2012), Men vs. Women

[29] Corbett, C., and Caramlau, I. (2006), ‘Gender differences in responses to speed cameras: typology findings and implications for road safety’, in Criminology and Criminal Justice: An international journal 6(4), 411-433

[30] Department for Transport (2018), Reported road casualties Great Britain annual report: 2018, table RAS51102

[31] Beuret, K., Corbett, C. and Ward, H. (2014), ‘Women and alcohol: drinking among British women and its impact on their pedestrian and driving activity’

[32] Department for Transport (2019), Reported road casualties great Britain annual report: 2018, table RAS51104

Last updated: March 2020

Tags: Driver gender fact check road safety