Warning: men behind the wheel!

Women have more accidents than men, but men are involved in more fatal accidents and accidents that cause serious injuries. According to Jacques Bergeron, Director of the Driving Simulation Laboratory and Professor in the Psychology Department at Université de Montréal, the phenomenon can be explained by psychology. "When you ask a male driver to assess his skills relative to a group of 30 people of the same age and sex, you find little variation between the self-evaluations," he says. Each one tends to evaluate himself as a better driver than his neighbour. Under the same circumstances, the women's assessments are more varied. They see themselves as generally better drivers, but their concept of a "good driver" leans more toward caution than skill."

The result? Men take more risks behind the wheel. "In most men's minds, speed is not a problem since men see themselves as good drivers who can drive fast and avoid accidents. However, we know that high speed is often a significant factor in collisions: reaction times are shorter, while braking distance and the force of the impact are increased."

But speed has a special appeal that is very difficult to resist... especially for young people. Speed is the cause of 25% of deaths and 19% of serious injuries, according to the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec. It is the second most frequent cause of accidents after drinking and driving, which is linked to nearly 40% of highway fatalities, or more than 300 deaths annually.

Of the 20,500 offenders aged 40 years and over who were charged with second alcohol-related offences 1990 and 1994, there were ten times more men than women. Among young people aged 18 to 35 years, the major high-risk population for speeding, there are many more men than women. "Even though they may also erupt in road rage, women drivers tend to be more cautious and make less dangerous manœuvres," notes Mr. Bergeron.

For the past 15 years, Prof. Bergeron has been doing research on driving behaviour. Using a converted Honda Civic in the Driving Simulation Laboratory, he and his master's and doctoral level students have studied drunk driving, aggressiveness, alertness, etc. Through the many experiments he has performed over the years, he has found many distinctions between men's and women's driving habits.

Researcher: Jacques Bergeron
Telephone: (514) 343-5811
Funding: Société d'assurance-automobile du Québec, Ministère des transports, Fonds FCAR


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