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Status Report, Vol. 36, No. 10 | November 15, 2001 Subscribe

Women drivers' fatal crashes have gone up because they're driving more

More women are driving today than a few decades ago, and they're driving more miles. Their crashes have gone up as well — the number of female drivers in fatal crashes has risen 60 percent since 1975, while male drivers' crash involvements have declined 10 percent. So while women accounted for fewer than one in five drivers in fatal crashes in 1975, they account for more than one in four today.

Women haven't become riskier drivers. They're simply driving more, which has increased their exposure to crashes.

"There's some speculation that women are driving more aggressively, making them more crash-prone," says Susan Ferguson, the Institute's senior vice president for research. "Actually, their fatal crash rates haven't increased since the mid-1970s, if you factor in the number of women driving and their amount of travel."

Canada's Traffic Injury Research Foundation and the Institute recently studied trends in fatal crashes involving male and female drivers from 1975 to 1998. Data are from the federal government's Fatality Analysis Reporting System, an annual census of all fatal traffic crashes in the United States. The study also examines whether changes in exposure — the number of licensed drivers and their annual mileage — could account for the crash trends.

Licensing and mileage turn out to be the critical factors. Since 1975, there's been a 55 percent increase in the number of women licensed to drive. Meanwhile, the population of male drivers has grown 32 percent.

Annual mileage per driver also has increased at a faster rate among women, who on average drove 71 percent more miles a year in 1995 than they did in 1977. This compares with a 24 percent mileage hike among men.

Taking these increases into account, it's clear that women haven't become any more crash-prone. Fatal crash rates per 100,000 female drivers have been stable since the mid-1970s. Per-mile rates have declined about 40 percent, the same as for men.

"Whatever the factors are that have been lowering the overall driver fatality rates per mile, women and men are benefiting equally from these factors," Ferguson points out.

The characteristics of crashes also suggest that women aren't engaging in riskier driving behavior. There have been decreases since 1975 in the percentages of female (and male) drivers in fatal crashes who weren't using their safety belts, who were drinking, or who had previous crashes or convictions on their records.

Important gender differences still exist. Male drivers' fatal crash rates per mile are about 1.8 times those of women — a difference basically unchanged from 25 years ago. Men also are more likely to be in crashes involving a single vehicle and crashes that occur at night and on weekends. Men are less likely to use their safety belts and more likely to have been drinking prior to their crashes. They're also more likely than women to have suspended licenses or previous convictions.

Changes in fatal crash involvements, by driver gender, 1975-98

Involvements Change
Men 1975 45,084
1985 44,290 - 2%
1998 40,360 - 9%
Women 1975 9,356
1985 12,031 + 29%
1998 14,937 + 24%

Fatal crash involvements are increasing among women while they're decreasing among men (above). This is accounted for by the fact that women are driving much more, while men aren't increasing their mileage as much. On a per-mile basis, fatal crash involvement rates for both men and women are declining (below).

Drivers in fatal crashes per 100 million miles, 1977-95

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