If you’ve been following the news you may have heard about one of our MPs Datuk Bung Mokhtar making certain statements about women drivers. Now it is MIROS Director General Dr Ahmad Farhan Mohd Sadullah’s turn to say something about the issue, here’s his statement reproduced verbatim.

YB Datuk Bung Mokhtar Radin highlighted in parliament the issue of risk driving on Monday 28th March 2011. It confirms that politicians are in the best position to gain attention and to address an issue.

Indeed, road crashes are at an alarming state. However, frustratingly, advocacy efforts by JKJR, MIROS and other road safety advocates have not been getting the ears of our road users, thus errant behaviour on roads continue to prevail, and alarmingly, we are experiencing more of these situations.

How true is the claim that women drivers are more aggressive these days? Before we look at the situation in Malaysia, let us analyse the situation based on established findings. In the whole world, we are seeing more women drivers on the road and as a result, women drivers tend to get the attention of other drivers. Somehow, a woman driver will still draw our attention when one passes by (of course, this is from a male perspective and I wonder if a woman driver perceives the same). Therefore any small error, or misjudgement committed will immediately catch attention.

So is it just perception or it is true that woman are getting more aggressive? This is just like when we see a woman smoking, we perceive that many women now smoke, which ironically does not give us the same perception when we see many men smoke. Similarly, when we see a motorcyclist weaving in and out dangerously, we tend to generalize by saying that all motorcycles do that, which in effect, only a small minority does it. So is it really just perception?

Studies have shown that men and women have different traits, which in turn may influence their driving behaviour. A woman will feel safer in her own car and will feel in control. In her car, a woman is now on equal standing with men. Studies have associated some aggressive driving behaviour among women drivers to this propensity.

There are other known facts about women and men, too. Generally, women are good at multi-tasking, and can share their brain thoughts on several matters at one time. As driving will also require action and reaction, a multi-tasker may however tend to slip up and this may result in doing errors and an errant while driving. Perhaps, this may be the reason, why we do witness some women drivers making slip ups while driving as claimed by our YB.

Women are also known to have poorer spatial ability compared to men, making a woman driver more hesitant with manoeuvres that require space and distance estimation, like entering and passing a junction, overtaking and parking. Hesitation will either make you slowly dangerous, or inadequately and dangerously daring, both making you a risk to road users.

So does this mean women are more aggressive compared to men? Before we make any conclusion, let us dissect the male propensity. A male driver is known to possess better psychomotor skill, making them highly-confident and at times overly confident. As a result, a man has the general tendency to drive at high speed, to take chances and to be a greater risk on the road.

Let us now look at statistics and some findings from our research at the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (MIROS). In 2009, numbers of crashes involving men drivers were 2.4 times more than women drivers. There were 244,336 cases involving man drivers as compared to 103,153 cases with women drivers, throughout the nation. In addition, if we were to ratio the crash number with the number of population, men scores 1,351.74 crashes per 100,000 male populations, while women was 537.97 crashes per 100,000 female populations. So, based on statistics, men looks to be riskier than women on roads and are involved in more crashes. So definitely men are more risky on roads compared to women.

However, if we analyse the figures further, interesting observations appear. Comparing the involvement in crashes between men and women from 2006 to 2009, there has been a steady increase of the women share, from, 26.40% in 2006, to 27.08%, 27.74% and 29.69%, successively for 2007 to 2009.

Unfortunately, the absolute figures for both men and women have also grown steadily over the time period. Men drivers involving in crashes have increased by 67.93% and women drivers involving in crashes have almost doubled at 97.74% from 2006 to 2009.

Whilst men remain to be riskier on the road, women are getting involved in more accidents on the roads. These figures are for drivers involving in an accident, and they are not necessarily the drivers who are at fault in the accidents. That remains to be unknown in the database that we have, and as such we can only conclude that the risks have gone higher but this does not necessarily translate into the contribution of the crashes.

What is the take home message then? Regardless of the gender, the risk on the road is the same and one must always exercise due care. Risks will always be there, but by managing risks and by combining competency, adequate driving skill and putting safety first, you can reduce the risk of getting into a crash. Remember that a system that is in equilibrium will turn into a state of chaos when everyone takes the risk by showing aggression on the roads.

As we debate this, perhaps another 18 people have died on the roads yesterday. Road safety is about action, and all of us must ensure that we DO NOT speed, that we DO NOT take unnecessary risks, that we DO NOT allow our children to handle motorcycles when they are still below legal age limit. Let us have some chance of surviving if we meet with an accident by wearing our helmet when riding motorcycles, and by wearing our safety belts when we are in a car both as front or rear occupants. So be safe, and indeed “WE CAN MAKE THAT DIFFERENCE!”

“LOVE LIFE: Prevent sufferings due to road crashes.”

Professor Dr. Ahmad Farhan Mohd Sadullah
Director General
Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (MIROS)