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road sage

There is a special place in the Hack Hall of Fame for humour that goes beyond mere hackness and soars into the hackosphere where it achieves new heights in hackitude.

We call this place "Jokes about Women Drivers." It doesn't get more hack. That's why I have steadfastly resisted the urge to make crass generalizations about the motoring skills of the female sex.

It would be easy to fill column inches with weathered gems such as:

"My wife drives like lightning."

"You mean fast?"

"No, she hits trees."

But I'm above that kind of glib one-liner and every time a news item has reported that a female driver has rammed her car into a trailer filled with wooden teepee poles or a German town is offering "extra wide" parking spots as a way of attracting female visitors, I stayed virtuous.

But then last week there was a stirring in the driving gender force. It was reported that, in America, and we can assume everything that is true there is true here (only colder and more polite) female drivers now outnumber males. In 2010, according to a study by the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, 105.7 million American women had driver's licences while American men had 104.3 million. Women drivers outnumber the men.

"The changing gender demographics will have major implications on the extent and nature of vehicle demand, energy consumption and road safety," Michael Sivak, who co-authored the study, told the Associated Press. Women, he said, buy smaller, safer cars and have a lower "fatality rate per distance."

Male drivers under age 44 still outnumbered women, but only because there are more males than females in that demographic. Experts have many theories about why this shift is happening. They cite a general disinterest in cars among young people, who they say would rather text than drive. They claim there's an erosion of "car-fetish" culture and it's "no longer cool." Unemployment is also a factor.

I have another theory. We, as a society, have essentially declared war on young male drivers.

There isn't a diminishing coolness to cars. Guys still want cool rides. But now in order for a guy in his teens to get a set of wheels, he has to be born rich and jump through a million grades of licences. You now have to shell out a couple of thousand in driver's education (the average is $1,500). If a guy does pass, his insurance rates are likely to be, according to a 2010 report by Aviva Canada Inc., $500 to $2,500 more than his female counterpart. It's virtually impossible for an 18-year-old male of modest financial means to get a licence and afford the insurance.

How times have changed. I had it easy. Getting a licence in the 1980s meant driving around with your dad and attending a fairly cheap session of Driver's Ed. Insurance wasn't free, but it wasn't the loan-shark scale of payments now demanded.

The combination of parental involvement and some institutional teaching worked. Of course, it's now considered "irresponsible" for a dad to teach his kid how to drive. That's nonsense. Your parents actually care if you live or die. I can still remember my father's words the first time he handed me the keys to the family car.

"If I ever find out you've been drinking and driving, I will punish you so severely you'll wish I had killed you."

And I knew he meant it. That's love for you.

Back then, getting your licence was a guy's rite of passage. Today, young male drivers are pariahs. They are easy targets. When young males make mistakes, they make big mistakes, sometimes tragically fatal ones. There are plenty of studies attesting to the fatality rate. But many young male drivers are skilled and conscientious; they just don't get as much coverage. In October, 25-year-old Ontarian Caleb Macdonald risked his own life in order to save the life of the 64-year-old driver who had just hit him head-on. The 64-year-old was charged with careless driving.

I wonder whose insurance rates will go up?

It's easy for seniors to criticize young people. Young people are young and energetic. They're not. What's not to dislike? Yet every demographic has its foibles. Drunk driving, for instance, is still common among older drivers (they've been doing it for years). Ironically, young drivers are doing it less. Last month, the Chicago Tribune reported, "that the percentage of teens ages 16 to 19 who drink and drive has fallen by 54 per cent since 1991."

Women drivers? They're far from perfect. Women are much more likely to cause an accident by hitting the gas instead of the brake, according to a 2012 study by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2011, the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute (the same folks now heralding the demise of the male driver) analyzed 6.5 million crashes and found that, despite the fact men spend more time driving than women, female/female accidents were over-represented (20.9 per cent) and women were more likely to be in accidents at intersections.

What I'm trying to say is that, when it comes to driving, statistically speaking we all suck.

We've just decided to make young male drivers the scapegoats for all our collective transgressions. That's why fewer guys are getting their licences. It's prohibitively expensive. If you can fix it so that a guy doesn't have to work three part-time jobs and live in his parent's basement in order to make his insurance payments, then he'll think about getting a car. Until then – get used to the passenger seat, fellas.

Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy