Driven to Distraction

Men assume that women know nothing about cars, but increasingly these days they couldn't be more wrong. Lorraine Smith insists she, and many other women, know a lot more about cars than the colour.

, 19 August 2003

Women get such a raw deal when it comes to cars. Because of historical attitudes, men assume that all of us

  1. are bad drivers
  2. cannot park
  3. know nothing more about cars than the colour.

Is this still the case or is it a small minority of female motorists who are causing chaos somewhere and giving us all a bad name? I don’t mind being thought of as a typical woman driver because, when they see me behind the wheel, most people revise their opinion but I still resent the idea that women know nothing about cars. There are a lot of men out there who also know very little about the mechanical side of cars, and anyone without the most detailed and up-to-date knowledge of modern engines can surely be taken for a ride when it comes time to get a vehicle serviced. Besides, I could probably put a make and model to more de-badged cars than they’ve had hot dinners.

Men assume that all of us a) are bad drivers, b) cannot park, and c) know nothing more about cars than the colour

Every time someone sees me with a copy of Auto Express, they assume that I’m looking to buy a new car. If a man had the same magazine in his hand people would think he just liked cars, if they assumed anything about him at all, but no one seems to have cottoned on to the fact that some women also like cars. I readily admit that I couldn’t attempt anything more than routine checks on my own car, and only have a basic understanding of how modern engines and management systems work, but I’m an advanced driver with an above average knowledge of the current models available from most major manufacturers. Please don’t dismiss my fondness for the Jazz as a liking for that nasty ‘Iris Red Pearl’ colour (aka pink) that Honda offers as, in my opinion, pastel coloured cars are strictly for Barbie’s garage. More and more women are going to the Motor Show these days, and not just because the other half has dragged them along to look at which girly supermini would be best to bring the shopping home in. Trust me, the MINI Cooper S that just flashed past you in the outside lane was probably being driven by a woman.

Most men’s concept of the female motorist can’t have been helped by the news about a competition to find a female champion racing driver. Formula Woman sounded like a fantastic idea but, although I was tempted, I didn’t enter as a taster of motor sport is more my style than a total change of career. Unfortunately, many of the wannabes didn’t view the opportunity in quite the same way I did and apparently the organisers are having a problem with the ‘quality’ of some of the 3,000 entries received so far. As setting up the Formula Woman Championship will be filmed for a reality TV series, Auto Express was told that: “Some of the girls were clearly there because they wanted to be on TV and get famous, rather than be a champion racer.” Not exactly an image female motorists need if they are to be taken seriously.

When I was receiving instruction via one of the Institute of Advanced Motorists’ local groups a few years ago, I was one of only a couple of women on the course. A lot of women view driving as simply a way to get from A to B and don’t see the enjoyment you can get from tackling twisty country roads on a clear dry day. Try it now before it’s too late – before all cars are fitted with speed limit detectors, making overtaking a thing of the past; before petrol engines are no more, and 0-60 times become irrelevant. I’m in no way advocating speeding though as, with careful observation and planning, an exciting drive can be had well within the legal limit. Instead of exceeding 60 on the straights, get your thrills from losing more powerful cars through the corners as the other driver misjudges a bend and has to slow right down. I’m sure, all this would be far more enjoyable in a small sporty roadster with impeccable handling and a few acronyms to help you out of trouble should things go awry (for example ABS, ESP, ABD), but the truth is that it also feels good in a six-year-old 1.1-litre Peugeot 106. As long as body roll’s your thing!

Parking is another classic example of why female drivers are all tarred with the same brush

Parking is another classic example of why female drivers are all tarred with the same brush. All it takes is for one young mum in her, no doubt large and perhaps four-wheel drive, family transport to be distracted by her kids and misjudge a space. It wasn’t the fact that she was unused to the size of the car, or that little Billy was throwing a fit on the back seat that meant she ended up forming a diagonal between the white lines, oh no. It’ll be because she’s a woman, and women can’t park. The problem with stereotypes is that they have some base in fact and there are indeed an awful lot of women who have problems with slow speed manoeuvring, especially using reverse gear, but the same ‘bad driver’ accusations could also be levelled at older male drivers who should have been taken off the road the moment they first uttered the words ‘why is everyone in such a hurry these days?’

I don’t want attitudes to change completely and overnight, but I do wish that people would judge other motorists on their actual actions rather than perceived ones. There are, admittedly, a tremendous number of bad drivers on UK roads today but they don’t all fit neatly into one group. However, this prejudice does occasionally work to our advantage and although some people still find it difficult to understand why a girl would have a subscription to a weekly car magazine rather than some gossip ridden celebrity obsessed trash, there is one place where I know I’ll always be understood. Once place where women get a better deal and men are penalised for their gender. Next time you get a quote on your car insurance, just spare a thought for those poor sensible young men who will probably have to fork out at least double what you will be paying simply because a small group of their sex believe that The Fast and the Furious is a lifestyle rather than a movie. Next time a bloke says how crap women drivers are, just think of how much extra he’s paying for being such a ‘good’ driver and smile sweetly. After all, he can’t help being male.

When she’s not dodging mobile phone wielding HGV drivers and being tailgated by boy-racers, Lorraine Smith can be found ranting about them on her website (www.lori-smith.co.uk).

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