To arrive alive, let the woman drive

Sydney Morning Herald
April 16 2005
By Tim Colquhoun

There may finally be proof that men are better drivers than women. Or that women are better drivers than men.

Females use different parts of the brain to males when behind the wheel, and researchers say brain scans could one day be used to weed out bad drivers.

Malcolm Mills, a lecturer in neurosciences at the University of Southern Queensland, said he would be able to separate good drivers from bad by using electroencephalogram scans of brain activity while subjects use a driving simulator.

"It could possibly screen out people who would never be good car drivers orpilots. It's a sort of physiological intelligence test; a measure of cognitive power," he said.

Dr Mills said his research found women were more focused on the "here and now" and safely undertaking the task of driving, while men were looking ahead towards the "goal" and completing the task most rapidly.

He said his research might eventually be used in driver licence tests and by insurance companies determining risk for premiums.

Gender was the biggest predictor of speed behind the wheel, Dr Mills said, with men using a different part of the brain to women when driving.

For women, activity was predominantly seen in the left temporal area associated with language and consciousness, while for men activity was centred in the frontal lobes, associated with planning and motivation. While performance for men may relate to the speed at which the target is reached, for women, it is getting to the destination safely.

So who are the better drivers?

"If I'm in a car with a woman, I prefer the woman to drive ... because I'm more likely to get to my destination as opposed to getting halfway more quickly," Dr Mills said.

John Huggett, a driving instructor at L-Trent for 17 years, is not surprised by the findings.

"That's 100 per cent true in my experience," he said. Teenage males tended to have more raw ability when they start to learn to drive, but females of the same age exhibited more maturity behind the wheel, he said.

"The young man considers himself the world's best driver, accepting that he's immortal and can never ever get hurt in a car, whereas the girls are more likely to be careful and more interested in driving safely."

Media articles are posted for the purpose of criticism, comment, scholarship and research under "fair use" provisions and may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owners, except for "fair use."