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Are men losing interest in driving?

2012-11-14 10:41

AT WAR AGAIN: A study conducted in the US has found there are more licenced female drivers, compared with men.

Joan Lowy

WASHINGTON – In a society where women, compared with men, are often considered worse drivers, the US has released details from a study that concluded more women than men now have drivers' licenses in that country.

It is a reversal of a longtime gender gap behind the wheel that transportation researchers say is likely to have safety and economic implications.

BOTH DECLINING

The number of teens and young adults of both sexes with driver's licences is declining, but the decline is greater for young men, according to a study by the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute. The study looked at gender trends in driver's licences between 1995 and 2010.

Michael Sivak, co-author of the study, said: "The changing gender demographics will have major implications on the extent and nature of vehicle demand, energy consumption, and road safety. Women are more likely than men to purchase smaller, safer and more fuel-efficient cars; to drive less, and to have a lower fatality rate per distance driven.”

Over the 15 years the study covered, the number of men aged 25 to 29 years old with driver's licences dropped 10.6%. The amount of women of the same age with driver's licences declined by about 4.7%.

Male drivers outnumbered women drivers from the moment the first Ford Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1908, the year the automobile became popular, and through most of the last century.

By 1995, men with driver's licenses slightly outnumbered women, 89.2 million to 87.4 million. By 2010, 105.7 million women had licenses, compared with 104.3 million men.

DIGITAL GENERATION

Sivak believes rising Internet usage may be part of the reason for the decline in the number of young drivers, especially young men. A previous study by the transportation institute published in 2012 found that countries that have higher Internet usage also have a lower licensure rate of teens and young adults.

"There is some suggestive evidence that Internet contact is reducing the need for personal contact," he said.

Other researchers have theorised that digital media and technology may make driving less desirable and public transportation more convenient. Texting while driving is dangerous and illegal in most states, but there's no risk to texting or working on a laptop while riding a bus or train. Some transit systems have been seeing significant increases in riders.

Travel behaviour analyst Nancy McGuckin said: “Another reason for the growing disinterest among young men in driving may be the erosion of the ‘car-fetish society’. Independence, freedom, being able to customise the car to reflect you - these are not part of young people's association with vehicles.”

It is also "no longer cool, or even possible, to work on your own vehicle. The engines are so complex most people don't even change their own oil," she said.

ENONOMIC DIFFICULTIES

There also may be economic reasons for the shift, McGuckin's research indicates. Alan Pisarski, author of the Transportation Research Board's comprehensive "Commuting in America" reports on US travel trends, believes it may be that unemployment and underemployment have made auto insurance unaffordable for young men.

"Insurance for males under 25 is just colossally expensive," he said.

Gloria Berquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said: "Some research has shown that young adults today connect with their friends through their smartphones, but at some point younger consumers still need to get from here to there, and a car is still a priority where public transportation is unavailable or limited. This is especially true for younger adults when they enter the workforce."

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