‘The Female Menace’

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Have women suddenly become a gaggle of reckless drivers? No…socioeconomic and demographic change have led to more women on the road. 
Statistics tell the story you want them to tell. Stories in yesterday’s Guardian, Telegraph and Metro illustrated this perfectly. Under the headlines such as ‘Huge rise in women who drink-drive’ they report that ‘the number of women caught drink-driving has almost doubled in less than 15 years’. With one article describing the fairer sex as ‘The female menace’, they all reported figures from a recent survey by the insurers Direct Line and the transport charity the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund.

The figure behind the headlines is that while women ‘accounted for nine per cent of drink-drive convictions in 1998’, by 2012 this number had risen to 17 per cent. First off, while this eight per cent rise may be significant, it still leaves men responsible for 83 per cent of drink drive convictions. More importantly however, reporting this statistic without context is misleading. Analysis by the RAC shows that between 1995 and 2010, i.e. roughly the same time period as the drink driving statistic is taken from, the number of female motorists increased from 9.2 million to 16.3 million. This means that as a fraction of the total number of drivers, the number of women on the roads rose by 8.3%. In light of this, the eight percent rise in the total number of drink driving convictions going to women should hardly be surprising. This is not to condone drink driving, indeed 15% of all road fatalities in 2011 involved alcohol. It is merely to show that the recent rise in women convicted of drink driving is due to an increase in the number of women driving, rather than an increase in the recklessness of female drivers.

What’s behind the rise in female drivers?

The large rise in women drivers stems from women becoming more economically active, having children later and living longer, healthier lives. According to the Department for Transport’s National Travel Survey, in 1975 just 29% of women had a driving license, in comparison to 69% of men. In 2010 the number of women with a license had more than doubled to 66% while the number of men with a license had risen to 80%. The biggest rises in license ownership in recent years has been among older women. Between 1995 and 2010 the percentage of women aged 60-69 with a driving license increased 23 percentage points and the percentage of women over 70 with a license rose 20 points. If the trend of a rising number of female drivers continues, Britain could follow the lead of America where there are already more female than male drivers on the road.

Do men remain the real menace on the road?

Men remain far more likely to be involved in drink drive incidences than women. Department for Transport figures show that in 2011, twice as many men as women involved in an accident failed a breathalyser test, and that men are three times more likely to become a casualty in a drink driving accident. Drink driving is highest among young men: of those aged 20-29 who are involved in an accident, 12-13 percent fail a breathalyser test. This is in contrast to around 6% of women in this age category, the Department for Transport reports. In light of such startling figures the name ‘The female menace’ seems hard to justify.

Helen Creighton

For more on the interplay between demographic change and transport, please see the ILC Global Alliance and Age UK event on the 28th of October, The Future of Transport in an Ageing Society, Hosted by Prudential.

One thought on “‘The Female Menace’

  1. Avril said:

    There are indeed “lies damn lies and statistics”. Good to see this unpicked and to see that aging is not preventing women form remaining active and mobile. There is a regrettable tendency to use rather hysterical headlines about women and older women in particular so thanks for showing the inaccuracy.

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