Men are becoming more sensible drivers more rapidly
Women 18-24, en route to work, are most at risk
GENEVA / BERN, SWITZERLAND – Working women who drive are at their worst on the road between 07:00 and 08:00, particularly women ages 18 to 24, show figures pubished 9 January by the Suva, Swiss obligatory accident insurer for employers. As women get older, the risk factor diminishes sharply.
Women who are self-employed or who do not work don’t show the same risk patterns and have a lower rate, the new figures indicate.
Stress and less road experience may be the main factors in a dangerous combination, says the Suva, which suggests that getting ready for work, sorting out household matters, possibly dropping off young children for care during the day and trying to arrive on time for work could contribute to the higher rate, with more women working and thus covered by employers’ accident insurance than in the past.
Statistically, women were better drivers than men in Switzerland until 2005, when the rate of men’s serious accidents fell below that of accidents caused by women, with the number of kilometres driven annually factored into calculations. The only exception was males between ages 18 and 24, whose serious accident rate was significantly higher.
But women drivers today, ages 18 to 64, driving 40 percent fewer kilometres per year than men, have now overtaken men for being at risk for serious accidents, with a rate 67 percent higher. The risk for working women is twice that for working men, based on current accident statistics. And even when the far lower number of kilometres driven by women ages 18 to 64 is not taken into account the risk for women is 25 percent higher.
The Suva says that the per kilometre figure is important to make correct comparisons.
Prevention efforts for young men paying off
“It appears that dense morning traffic is a critical factor for working women. According to the study, stress and inexperience on the road explain this phenomenon. The share drop in accidents caused by men in recent years shows that targeted prevention efforts pay off.”
But the Suva concludes nevertheless that a close analysis of the statistics shows that the cause(s) behind the higher risk for working women who drive is “relatively mysterious, both in terms of the scale of it, given that alcohol and speed play only marginal roles, and the risk profile taken for the day as well as for the week as a whole. The conjuncture of several different factors is therefore offered as a possible explanation.”
The change has much to do with a fall in the number of accidents involving young male drivers, 18-24 seriously injured or killed in accidents, down by 34 percent in the past 10 years, with overall accidents in this group falling by 26 percent since 2002.
The Suva and the national safety council say that prevention efforts for this group are paying off, and attention must turn to young women.
Young women ages 18-24 now have the same number of serious accidents as men their age. Young men remain, however, far more at risk for killing themselves on the road, six times more so than young women. But the Suva points out that road deaths are a small fraction of all serious accidents, with 0.3 percent of young women killed and 1.3 percent of young men. Lack of maturity, with the male brain developing in this area more slowly than the female one according to several studies, is credited with the higher risk, particularly when combined with drugs, alcohol, speeding and fatigue. A high percentage of accidents involving young male drivers occurs in the evening and particularly late at night, with the second half of the week the highest risk time.
The new figures correspond to what research is showing in other countries about young drivers, men and women. An Australian study in December 2012 reported: “Young inexperienced drivers are over-represented in most types of crashes but particularly single-vehicle crashes. These crashes typically involve a single vehicle colliding with a fixed object (such as a tree or pole), or rolling over. More than half of 18 to 25 year-old drivers killed on Victorian roads in 2002 were involved in a crash of this type. Young men are more likely to be involved in crashes resulting from excessive speed, whereas inadequate driving skills are more likely to play a causal role in crashes involving young women.”
The Australian study does not, however, show women catching up to men for risk.
Suva’s figures show that more than 50,000 people who are covered by employers’ insurance are injured in road accidents (the total for Switzerland, according to federal statistics: 90,000), for a cost of CHF800 million a year. This is about 31 percent of the total cost of non-professional accident insurance. The lion’s share, says the Suva in its report, is non-work car accidents.
Suva’s numbers include only working adults from 18 to 64 who are covered by obligatory insurance, and these are only accidents outside work. Self-employed and non-working people (such as stay-at-home mothers) are not included, nor are retired people. Fender benders and parking accidents are not included; the numbers are from insurance reports for accidents involving injuries or death. But Suva compares its figures to the larger group in national road accident statistics, adjusting for differences, and one significant number surfaces: working women in general, but particularly the 18-25 group, are more at risk than other drivers.
The Suva sought to qualify the numbers by looking for causes that might explain the rapidly increasing discrepancy, and a key point, it says, is that the numbers do not show more women having accidents, but rather that the rate of serious accidents has been falling faster for working men than for working women.
Alcohol and speed more often factors in accidents caused by men
The report includes comparisons with a February 2011 study by bfu/bpa, the Swiss Council for Accident Prevention, in 2011, to mark the 40th anniversary of two Swiss events: women were finally given the vote at a federal level and the number of deaths and injuries on Swiss roads peaked, setting a record high. The bpa study 15 months ago showed:
- 1,773 people lost their lives in road accidents in 1971, compared to 349 in 2009, one-fifth the number
- men drove far more often than women in 1974, with more men having driver’s licenses than women, 63 percent of men, 36 percent of women, compared to 91 percent of men and 75 percent of women by 2005
- in accidents involving a man driving one vehicle and a woman the other, men are more often at fault, 54 percent of cases
- men are more likely to cause accidents because of alcohol or speed, with 18 percent of men’s accidents caused by speeding, compared to 11 percent for women, and 11 percent are linked to alcohol for men, but only 4 percent for women.
Women drive fewer km and drive less on autoroutes
The bpa study also showed that men, particularly young men, are far more likely to break road rules than women, with men accounting for 87 percent of those who are stopped or fine and women 13 percent.
Bpa Director Brigitte Buhmann said in 2011 when the report was issued that “lack of experience leads to more accidents caused by women.” Accidents where the driver failed to yield the right of way are caused more often by women than men, for example.
Figures for 2005 showed women driving 36 km a day and men 54, with women driving considerably less on autoroutes, which are safer than highways and secondary roads.
Switzerland’s accident rate is one of the lowest in Europe, but 320 people lose their lives every year and 90,000 are injured in road accidents, figures the federal government is determined to see reduced further.