Jeff Jardine

The numbers don’t lie: Females are Stanislaus County’s better drivers

Numbers are ripe to be manipulated, and if you don’t think so, just ask a Wall Street banker. Or a political pollster. Or a player’s agent during negotiations.

Sometimes, though, the digits are irrefutable and can shatter stereotypes. A case in point: The myth that males are – by nature and numbers – better drivers than females. After all, America’s love affair with cars began with men, and nowhere more evident than in “Graffiti”-loving Modesto. Boys and men drove. Women, for generations, rode alongside and some drove only when necessary, while others never drove at all. So of course men considered themselves the better drivers.

That is no longer the case in Stanislaus and many other California counties, and hasn’t been for at least a decade if not much longer, according to the numbers compiled by the California Highway Patrol. Males were at fault in 34 of the 46 traffic deaths in Stanislaus County in 2016, and in 46 of 58 in 2006.

They were at fault in 1,605 of the 2,687 injury accidents last year in the county and in 1,519 of 2,517 in 2006. Among teens and drivers up to 24 years old – the high-risk group where insurers are concerned – females were responsible for six fewer fatalities than males in 2016 and eight fewer in 2006.

Females make up just shy of half of the county’s 339,629 licensed drivers and 48 percent of those ages 24 and under.

So why are females – from teen girls to elderly women – found at fault in fewer fatal and injury crashes than their male counterparts? Good question. Here is at least one answer, from Sheli Watson, an instructor at Love’s Safe Driving School in Modesto.

“Men drive more,” she said, meaning more miles and time behind the wheel. “My husband will go out and drive around because he loves to drive around. I go somewhere when I need to go.”

Officer Thomas Olsen of the CHP in Modesto said the same.

“When we go anywhere, I drive,” he said.

More miles and more time behind the wheel mean greater chances of being in an accident. But that’s only part of the equation. Auto insurers figured it out a long time ago. Rates for girls tend to begin lower than premiums for boys the same age. Why? Teenage girls aren’t as daring behind the wheel, among other reasons. Texting and cellphone use is a problem involving many drivers regardless of their gender.

“There are distracted drivers,” Modesto police spokeswoman Heather Graves said, “but it’s hard to prove. In major injury or fatal collisions, we’ll get warrants (or permission from surviving drivers).”

And while the state Department of Motor Vehicles doesn’t monitor the average age of first-time drivers – male or female – this much is certain: Many teens aren’t itching to get behind the wheel the moment they turn 16, as were their parents and older generations.

Part of that is the cost of driver training courses, once offered as part of the high school curriculum but now taught through private companies including Love’s and others. The price generally is based upon the hours spent behind the wheel in training, and can range from about $100 to nearly $500. Then there’s the cost of purchasing and maintaining a vehicle, including gas, oil, repairs and insurance – elements that when combined can be more than a family can afford.

Another aspect, Graves said, is that many among this generation are fine with being driven instead driving. If they live in cities where public transportation is available, they continue to use it. Those who go to college and live on campus often don’t need cars and therefore don’t get their licenses while in high school.

But among drivers, the safer ones are females. The numbers don’t lie, and they are pretty tough to manipulate.