ANNAPOLIS – There are more men and women drivers on the roads these days, but the fairer sex is involved in a bigger share of fatal crashes than 20 years ago, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics.
That doesn’t mean they caused the accidents, and female drivers still are just a small portion of drivers involved in deadly collisions, but their involvement in such crashes has shot up 41 percent since 1982, the figures show.
What accounts for the increase? Increased aggressiveness, experts say.
While there is roughly an equal number of men and women drivers in the nation, men accounted for 72 percent of the drivers involved fatal crashes both in Maryland and across the nation, down from 80 percent in 1982, according to NHTSA statistics. Women drivers are in about 27 percent of the crashes, the figures show.
That’s because there are more women on the road than before, said Tim Hurd, NHTSA spokesman. There are now almost 92 million women driving the nation’s roads, up from 71 million in 1982.
But there are also more men who are driving today than in 1982, when 78 million men were licensed in the U.S. Today that number is 93 million.
More male drivers hasn’t meant that more of them are involved in fatal crashes, but more women on the road has. In 1982, women accounted for 19 percent of all drivers in fatal collisions, by 1998 that number hit nearly 27 percent.
Men’s shrinking numbers reflect increased safety measures, while women’s rising numbers reflect an increase in aggressiveness, said Mike Erwin, spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute.
“More and more women are involved in road rage, taking emotions and aggression out on other drivers on the road,” Erwin said.
That’s only natural, said Marilyn J. Sorensen, a clinical psychologist for more than 22 years and the author of “Breaking The Chain Of Low Self-Esteem.”
More women are entering the workforce, facing daily life frustrations, and as a result they are becoming more aware of the ways they are treated unfairly, she said.
“As people who have been passive attempt to become more assertive, much as a pendulum swings from side to side, they often become more aggressive at first,” she said.
And that is affecting the way women drive, say experts.
“They’re bumping, tailgating, chasing cars,” said Erwin.
That type of driving behavior is usually associated with men, said Julie Rochman, spokeswoman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Men take more risks when they drive, she said.
“They tend to speed, ignore traffic signals, drink and drive and don’t wear their seatbelts. The higher insurance rates reflect that,” Rochman said.
Women driving aggressively is too new an issue to be reflected in increased insurance rates, said Erwin.
“But if it continues, then there will be an increase,” he said.
And it will continue, said Sandra Kinsler, editor of the online magazine womanmotorist.com. Achieving equality with men in society has meant that, unfortunately, women are behaving more like them on the road, she said.
“As more women gain independence and increased incomes, they become more aggressive,” Kinsler said. That belies the true nature of women, whose egos normally permit them to allow others to drive, unlike men who have to be in control, she said.
“Fundamentally, women are better drivers,” she said.
But don’t tell that to State Trooper Cynthia Brown, who said she saw plenty of dangerous women drivers on Maryland’s highways.
There may have been fewer women driving drunk but when it came to speeding and driving aggressively, women and men were equals on the road, she said.
“There was no real difference,” Brown said. Both sexes displayed what she described as an impatient “I want to get home” attitude. That often led to behavior likely to cause crashes, like tailgating and abrupt lane-changes.
That kind of behavior has become more common, according to a 1997 American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety study, which found that about 1,500 men, women and children are injured or killed each year in the United States as a result of aggressive driving.
Fatal crashes caused by drivers who run red lights were up 14 percent between 1992 and 1996, according to an insurance institute study.
But the overall numbers of fatal crashes have declined since 1982, both in the nation and in Maryland, even though there are more people on the road than ever before.
In 1998, there were 3.1 million licensed drivers on Maryland’s roads and 184 million in the nation, but there are actually fewer fatal vehicle crashes for each mile traveled, according to NHSTA. In 1998, there were 1.8 fatalities for each 100 million vehicle miles driven, down from 3.3 in 1978.
That is mirrored in Maryland where in the last five years the number of crashes has dropped from 601 to 549, according to Fatality Analysis Reporting System data.
That reduction is due to safety campaigns and new technology, said Tim Hurd, spokesman of NHTSA.
“Fatalities have decreased because of a big decline in drunk driving, use of safety belts, airbags and better designed cars,” Hurd said.
But experts, like Erwin, are concerned that women may continue to move toward road rage equality.
“Women are taking on the role of the aggressive driver.”