When it comes to driving, is being male as dangerous as being drunk? According to a road safety awareness campaign by France’s Securite Routiere, the answer is yes – if you possess negative masculine driving stereotypes. In a newly released video, which shows men in the delivery room experiencing the first moments of fatherhood, the road safety unit encourages viewers to shun macho posturing and aggression behind the wheel.
Being male is not the sole source of road danger. The commercial acknowledges that speed, alcohol, narcotics and fatigue play a significant role in traffic fatalities; but it asks, what “if we had to add masculinity to the list of factors?” The awareness campaign notes that in 2022 close to 80 per cent of those killed in traffic fatalities were men. French men are far more likely to cause road accidents and drive drunk. The video ends with the entreaty to “Soyez l’homme que vous voulez mais soyez un homme vivant.” Roughly translated as “Be the man you want to be but be a living man.”
The campaign “does not mean all men are bad drivers – that is not true,” Florence Guillaume, the interministerial delegate for road safety in France, told The Guardian. Rather it aims to highlight attention on negative male beliefs about driving. Sociologist Alain Mergier, who studied the effects on masculinity and driving for the campaign, told the paper, “It’s striking how certain stereotypes are persistently passed from father to son, including the car as a symbolic object of masculinity, male identity and virility. This isn’t given much thought and yet we can see the far-reaching impact on accidents.”
When it comes to gender and driving, there is no mystery. More men die in car crashes than women. The statistics bear this out. According to statistics from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, between 1975 to 2020, the number of male crash deaths was more than twice the number of female crash deaths. Men drive drunk more, they speed more, they display anger while driving. Of course, one reason more men die while driving is that men drive more and drive farther. More men work as drivers, or use driving as part of their employment.
Researchers have consistently sought to explain the differences in driving styles caused by gender and gender identity.
A 2010 study conducted at Toronto’s York University entitled “Narcissism and aggressive driving: Is an inflated view of the self a road hazard?” had 210 participants complete a demographic questionnaire, the Driving Vengeance Questionnaire, the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, and the Driver Aggression and Attribution Measure.
When it came to anger and aggressive responses (what some might call toxic masculinity) the more intentional or inconsiderate the triggering behaviour, the more aggressive a driver’s response. For instance, respondents were not extremely angered when confronted by a scenario describing a motorist driving slowly in a snowstorm but were very angered by a scenario in which an individual claimed a parking spot that the participant had been waiting to occupy.
The study found that men react more aggressively than females to high levels of anger, “as their limit for aggression is far higher than females.” Men were more likely to overlook mild transgressions, however, women were more likely to act out with horn honking or flashing the headlights, both of which are relatively safe ways of expressing anger, and unlikely to cause a physical confrontation or further interaction. The study’s authors observed that women’s threshold for responding with mild levels of aggression may be lower, but they also do not reach the levels of aggression that men do.
A 2005 study entitled “The observed effects of teenage passengers on the risky driving behaviour of teenage drivers” examined the effect the presence of young male and female passengers had on teen drivers. In general, teenagers of both sexes drove faster and gave less headway (the gap between cars that allows for braking space) when they had a male teenage passenger. The study found that male drivers who had female passengers gave longer headways. This was also true for female drivers. “The presence of a female passenger for both male and female teen drivers resulted in significantly greater headway compared with all other driver/passenger conditions.”
For an example of toxic masculinity in action, here is a story a friend recently witnessed. He watched a car spin out of control across three lanes of a somewhat icy Highway 401. The driver almost got T-boned by a car going 80 kilometres an hour. When the driver came to a stop he was facing the wrong way and luckily all the other traffic was able to stop to let him turn around. “If that was me, I think I would have got off the highway,” my friend said. “But the near crash didn’t stop this driver. He got back up to speed and was the fastest car in the left lane. I lost sight after a few minutes.” Now that’s “toxic humanity.”
The campaign in France is not the first, nor will it be the last, to ask men to consider the effects that masculine identity may have on driving. I’m for it. Anything that gets people, regardless of their gender, to take a pause and think seriously about being better, safer drivers is a good thing.