Do Women Take the Backseat to Men?

It was no big surprise to me that men spend more time behind the wheel when a couple rides together. My suspicion was confirmed by independent data (see here). And you, the readers, chipped in: 227 of you reported that the man drives more in your relationship vs. only 67 who said the woman does.

In the last couple of posts, I’ve reported some of your reasons for why this is. They ran from the trivial (it’s hard to work the pedals in heels); to the familial (women are more likely to have to care for kids in the backseat); to the cultural (TV ads show men doing the driving); to the criminal (men hold their liquor better).

Many might have expected to hear a narrative about dominating men imposing their will on the auto and its helpless occupants. Last time, I reported that some of you think this way.

But the big surprise is that this is a distinctly minority opinion. Instead, in relationships where the man drives more, 113 of you said this was due to the woman’s preference, while only 43 said it was the choice of the man.

If we’re out to oppress, guys, we’re doing a really bad job of it.

  • My husband drives more because driving is an annoying chore and I’m bright enough to let someone else do it.
  • Heidi

  • Tossing them the keys is a small investment in their stability on a matter that is rather low priority… This keeps we women solidly at the table in higher prority [sic] matters…? So don’t tell on us.
  • marge

  • There’s no reason to do something yourself when someone else will do it for you at no price… It’s menial labour and thus precisely the sort of thing men should do (or, more precisely, that I should never even have to consider doing). Like dealing with taking out garbage.
  • Lucy

  • I (a woman) consider myself a feminist… I consider it a luxury not to have to drive and use my fully empowered voice to request the passenger seat whenever possible.
  • Fiona

  • Dealing with the car is the only task women can delegate to a man without him complaining. Hey, don’t mess this up!
  • R Martin

  • Only the NY Times could find a way to make the fact women are good at getting men to drive them around a bad thing…
  • KMD

    Many women reported that they prefer to relax; work their ipod; navigate; talk on the phone; read; sleep; put on makeup; control the music; play computer games; space out; birdwatch; or just look out the window and silently gloat about the cunning guile they’re employing to win the battle of the sexes.

    Where does this leave us men? Stomped down under the stiletto heel of feminine oppression, that’s where. Almost twice as many men reported they drive because their wife wants them to, as opposed to because they want to themselves.

  • Why is it the women being oppressed that [sic] someone else handles driving for them? Men have to be pretty wealthy or prominent to have someone do all their driving for them, women get it for free. It is a gender stereotype that works in women’s favor, which is why I presume you don’t hear much about it.
  • Kip

  • I’ve raised the issue of feminism and insisting the man drive. It comes down to this, she wants both. Shocker. Who wouldn’t want a chauvinist, er, I mean, chauffeur.
  • Anon

  • If the situations were reversed, I believe the headline for the article would read: “Are Men Doing Enough of the Work of Driving?” There’s always an angle that tries to paint women as victims.
  • Wine Country Dude

  • I drive because my wife makes me. Is she really oppressed if she wants to be? Can someone please tell her to be a feminist?
  • Oppressed Male Driver

  • If you really want to drive, speak up. I’m sure most guys would pass out from hearing that.
  • JeremyN

To be fair to the ladies, there does seem to be one powerful element of male insufferableness at play. Lots and lots of women reported that they prefer that the man take the wheel, but only under duress: their men are intolerable backseat drivers.

  • I am a good driver (not one accident in 45 years of driving) but after too many instances of micro management (and yes, a little yelling) by my husband who is a very agressive [sic] driver (and has had a few fender benders in his day) I went on strike. I refuse to drive if he is in the car, and he would not dare to ask me to drive. Peace reigns behind the wheel.
  • jane

  • I always let my husband drive when we are together for the simple reason that I can’t tolerate the constant criticism of my driving when I take the wheel… Feminist? I don’t know, but time- and anxiety-sparing, definitely.
  • Rg

  • I have had a near perfect driving record for over 30 years and I cannot begin to tell you how often men who are my passengers sit there and nag about my driving. I don’t drive fast enough, aggressively enough, slow enough, use my turn signal too often… And the gasping and handle grabbing when I hit a curve is super annoying. So, I let the bozoes [sic] drive. If it is so important to drive like a hyped up teenager, I let them do it.
  • EMR

  • As an adult child, with a Class A commercial driver’s license and experience driving 18-wheelers and 60-foot horse vans across the country, I still get tutorials on how to operate a passenger vehicle from my dad. .. He is more critical of my driving than I am of his; ergo, he gets to drive. He is not a better driver, just a louder one.
  • SJ

On the other hand, although men seem to be the major offenders the phenomenon does cut both ways:

  • Personally, I’d rather my wife drives. If I’m driving she’s always telling me how to drive, or the route to take. With her driving the radio is the only source of irritating noise.
  • Ken

  • My wife doesn’t like driving that much. She’d rather read a book or correct my driving….. I, on the other hand, like driving, and can say “Yes, Dear” with surprising enthusiasm when corrected.
  • Chris McCracken

    Looking back over these posts, I’d say the most surprising thing is just how complex a seemingly simple phenomenon really is. You gave a very wide variety of causes for this behavior, running the gamut from the social to the cultural to the political to the logistical to the psychological to the physical. In the end I’m not sure there is any one conclusive answer.

    One burning question remains: Should we care about any of this? Or have you wasted valuable time reading these posts when you and your significant other could have been spending quality time out on the roadways making each other miserable?

    • Someone has entirely too much time on their hands. Isn’t there some more constructive study that could be done than wondering how many women are being chauffered [sic] around by male chauvinist pigs?
    • Bob

    I actually maintain that the topic is a very important one. Both the volume and passion of your comments indicates the situation definitely stirs the emotions.

    And, perhaps even more importantly, I maintain that the male/female driving divide is actually an issue of life and death. More to come.


    Helen

    When my husband and I go anywhere, I am behind the wheel. I prefer to be the driver.

    Paul

    I almost exclusively drive when my wife is in the car with me. Especially if we are going to a new destination. My dearest love of my life has absolutely no sense of direction; which even with the aid of modern technology ,remains unrestrained.

    So the alternatives are: we meander aimlessly about trying to get to our destination, or I drive.

    Luckily after four or five trips she knows where she is going and I no longer worry about her arriving safely at her destination if she is alone. And she gets a little nap if needed in transit while I drive.

    taki

    Doesn't apply to me. My wife used to drive me to work, before I got my drivers license. After that, we try to shift the duty of drive to each other. For me, it is like nobody in this world likes driving.

    Rob

    Why don't we just take public transit? How many women vs men drivers are there on buses?

    Andrea Rothberg

    My husband - Peter - always drives for a very simple reason. I am a horrible driver AND I have an awful sense of direction. If we want to arrive at our destination alive, Peter must drive.

    Pup, MD

    Wow, would a better title for this piece be "Do Economists Completely Miss the Point?"

    My wife does most of our driving, by both of our preferences. I proudly wear the feminist label.

    I don't know why you have to spin this piece as a cutesy "Oh look, everybody, women get the better end of the deal again when traditional gender roles play out! Eat it, feminazis!" piece of gotcha-blogging.

    The fundament of this phenomenon remains that societal expectations nudge women towards a secondary role. Whether the outcome of this nudge is bad, worrisome, or in favor of either party is entirely secondary, and in fact, a much less interesting point.

    James

    From the time we were teenagers, boys usually asked girls for a date (not the other way around), and the boys provided the transportation. Providing the transportation as we got older and were married is a natural progression..

    Mike

    I grew up in NYC and don't bat an eye about driving in heavy traffic (even though I hate it). My, wife who lived the first 15 years of her life in rural Oregon has never acclimated to city driving -- even in the boroughs.

    And when driving in the suburbs around our home, it depends which car we're in. If we have the children, we're probably in my car as it is the bigger, newer car (hers is our 10 year old Civic which usually doesn't travel more then 10 miles from our house) . I'm usually the one driving for the same reason she drives if it is just she and I in her car -- we hate readjusting the mirrors and seats. Since the majority of our couple driving occurs on the weekend, with children in tow, I drive.

    Paul

    I always drive simply because I view driving as a action that involves risk to my life and others. Because of this view I prefer to be in control of what may or may not happen while a vehicle is being driven.

    That and it would be awkward to open the driver's side door for them.....

    Derick

    I don't have a car or a wife. If this is the sort of drama those things result in, I hope it stays that way.

    Allison

    My parents call it flexible feminism: it's raining, someone has to go get the car, the woman's dress costs more to clean than the guy's tie, so he gets the car.

    Personally, as long as I get the front seat (ah, motion sickness), I'd rather be able to look out the window, talk on the phone, control the radio, etc. than be driving.

    Matt

    Well, for me it was usually dating girls who didn't drive.

    Actually, my last relationship was with someone who had a driving licence, and there was a very simple (and rarely voiced explicitly!) reason as to why I took the wheel more often than not:

    I earnt more.

    We never got to the stage of moving in together... so if we were going out somewhere, it was a case of me driving (because ?5 worth of petrol to me was just ?5, rather than "lunch and dinner for the next two days".) If there was a way I could diplomatically pay for a tank of petrol or otherwise offset the costs, we'd share roughly evenly.

    Of course, while this might be a very simple reason, it probably opens a whole new can of worms about gender pay gaps and female career expectations that's far, far bigger than the "why don't women drive?" one. :-)

    Elizabeth NJ

    My husband is a pilot and has a hard time not being in control. On long drives I take my turn at the wheel after lunch when he gets snoozy. He sleeps, and so I have a nice peaceful time driving. Funny thing, though, we always get the terrible weather when I'm at the wheel, like whiteouts or blinding rainstorms. He wakes up to sunny skies and is refreshed and ready to drive again. I feel I've done my share and happily go back to the right-hand seat.

    Allison

    I drive because I get carsick easily. I can't do anything in a car other than look straight. If I look down at my phone or a book for thirty seconds, I start to feel dizzy. My boyfriend understands this and makes no objection when I insist on driving. Otherwise, I would sit in the passenger seat and do nothing. Might as well drive, right?

    So being the primary driver in my household doesn't have much to do with feminism or ego or control, but rather preventing nausea, headaches, and overall crankiness.

    Dave

    It could be something about physiology. It just seems natural, I like to drive and she doesn't. And I agree with the point that I'm a terrible back-seat driver. I just like to be in control of the large machinery, I think our physiology is better suited to controlling large machinery. It is probably a brain development thing, men are generally better athletes also, and the two things are probably related to the same regions of the brain and nervous system. In the hunter-gatherer times, who did the hunting and who did the gathering? Men hunted and women gathered. Hunting is really a similar activity in that it requires coordination and the anticipation of the paths of moving and stationary objects.

    Melanie

    I like to enjoy the view and be the passenger. It is often the only real down time I get, as long as the kids are not screaming in the back seat. Though my husband is probably a better driver overall, because he is more patient than me, he does manage to terrify me by driving what I deem to be too fast for icy winter conditions. One thing that drives me crazy, howerver, is that he is a terrible route finder, and I am forced to bite my tongue as he fails again and again to find the most effiecient route to our destination. Also, he'll sit at a red light for several minutes rather than turn right on the red when we plan to turn right on the next block anyway. Also, he doesn't move into the intersection to turn left when the light is green, and sometimes, I admit, I cannot hold my tongue for this. Also, he never moves into the lane he wishes to turn from until the very last minute, which sometimes causes some tense moments in traffic and other times causes us to have to drive an additional block so he may move into that lane safely. But I do my best to stay quite so I can reprimand him for his backseat driving the few times it is me behind the wheel. Ah, marriage. What fun.

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    Eric M. Jones

    Women sit in the passenger seat so they can reload.

    Jackie O

    When my fiance and I go out, he is usually behind the wheel. This stems from the fact that his company pays for a large portion of his personal fuel use, so, he drives. If something were to happen, I wouldn't want to have to explain to his boss why their insurance is paying for my accident. =)
    If we're in my car, I drive.

    Liz

    My husband and I are excellent drivers. I'm not bothered by his style of driving, but, although he rarely says anything, I don't think he is as comfortable with mine. He thinks I use the break too soon, for one thing.

    I tend to find that men focus on single tasks better than women. And they have a natural affinity with machinery. Doesn't make them all better drivers, but on a scale, the best male drivers are probably better than the best women.
    So why not let him do the driving?

    Besides, due to higher speeds and more traffic on modern roads, being a passenger is only time I can relax and sightsee when in a car.

    tom johnson

    We share our driving chores everywhere when we are traveling together. The only time my wife prefers to have me drive is whenever we are in a large and unfamiliar city as I seem to have the knack of memorizing a map before we get there. There are also some locations overseas where a female driver is more likely to be bullied by a male driver in another vehicle (particularly the middle east). With each of our having over 4 decades of driving experience, it has never been an issue as to who gets to drive. As to vehicles, my wife and I can both drive everything from a small go cart to a full semi trailer, stick shift or not. it doesn't matter what vehicle we are in, we can both drive it.