16 June 1998

Women Drivers Crash More Than Men

The statistics tell a paradoxical story. According to a controversial study by researchers at the John Hopkins Schools of Medicine and Public Health, women are more likely to be involved in car crashes than men - despite the fact that men are three times more likely to be killed when they do crash.

As reported in the June issue of Epidemiology, American women were involved in 5.7 crashes per million miles driven. Men, on the other hand, clocked up just 5.1 crashes per million miles. Given the fact that men drive an estimated 74 per cent more miles per year than women, the figure is surprising indeed.

"Although risk-taking behaviours may contribute to the excessive injury mortality among men and younger drivers, up to now age and sex discrepancies in death rates from motor vehicle crashes have not been well understood," says lead author Guohua Li, associate professor of emergency medicine.

Using crash statistics gathered by the Fatal Accident Reporting System, the General Estimates System and the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey, the researchers developed an innovative method called "decomposition" to break down the data into new categories and weigh the relative contribution of three variables: crash fatality, incidence density (number of crashes per million miles) and exposure prevalence (annual average miles driven per driver). Until now, the death rate ratio has always been based on just two factors: fatality and accident rates.

The investigators discovered that teenage boys start recklessly, with about 20 per cent more crashes per mile driven than teenage girls. Males and females between the ages of 20 and 35 run almost identical risks. Females over the age of 35, however, are significantly more likely to crash than their male counterparts.

Each year, motor vehicle crashes in America claim a staggering 40,000 lives, cause three million injuries and cost the nation $140 billion.