Despite their protestations, women have traditionally been the butt of driving jokes – but sobering new Government statistics may silence the wisecracks.
Home Office minister Hazel Blears MP has released figures from the Home Office Court Proceedings database showing a breakdown of all motoring offenders convicted in England and Wales between 1999 and 2003.
The figures show staggering differences, with men committing six times the number of offences as women.
In total over five years, 395,000 women were found guilty of crimes ranging from noise offences to speeding and dangerous driving. During the same period, more than 2.5 million men were convicted of the same crimes.
The chasm between male and female convictions cannot be attributed to different numbers of male/female drivers. DVLA statistics show that in 2002 there were 21,939,044 men with full or provisional licences and 17,779,959 women, a gap of just over four million. The figures show offences by both sexes are on the up. In 1999, men were caught flouting motoring laws 557,085 times. By 2003, that number had risen by almost 20,000 to 576,476 (2.6% of male licence holders).
Among women, 77,105 were convicted in 1999 but by 2003 the total was 88,035 (0.5% of female licence holders).
Kenny Roberts, managing director of ATC Driver Training, said it was not clear whether the overall rise in convictions reflected a rise in offending or simply a higher rate of detection but he felt men were more likely to commit motoring offences.
Roberts said: "Men in general are inclined to be risk takers – it’s in their nature – but I have seen changes in women over the last few years. More women are getting managerial roles and so tend to have more character and strength, which shows in their driving."
Roberts believes the flood of new speed cameras is at least partly responsible for the trends shown by the statistics. Men, long associated with fast cars and high speeds, could be finally learning their lesson. He said: "Cameras make people think about their driving."
Within the rising conviction rates, some offences seem to be growing faster than others, while a handful of crimes are actually reducing in number.
Insurance offences rocketed in the five-year study period, but incidents of careless driving fell considerably.
Speeding offences make up the largest proportion of cases. Among men, the number of convictions has fallen by more than 15,000 over the five-year period, from 125,076 in 1999 to 109,664 in 1993. But woman speeders are more common, with numbers rising from 20,500 in 1999 to 24,262 five years later, although it is a fraction of male speeding convictions.
David Richards is marketing director of DriveTech, which holds speed awareness courses for drivers caught exceeding the speed limit. He said men still made up the bulk of those on the course, 57% on the low-end course for those who only nudged past the speed limit, and 75% on the high-end course aimed at those excessively breaking the legal speed limit.
He suggested the reason for rising numbers of female speeders could be cultural: "The rise of the ‘ladette’ in the 90s has created a culture where it’s as likely for women to speed as men."
Richards believes the average driver is older and more mature behind the wheel. He said: "If you look at the age profile of people driving you might find they’re growing up. Older people, with family responsibilities, tend to drive more sensibly."
Incidents of dangerous driving by men have risen every year, from 3,871 in 1999 to 5,236 in 2003. Convictions for women have also risen, but the numbers involved are still comparatively small – from 137 to 215 over five years.
As for drink and drug-driving, from 1999 to 2001 male convictions fell from 71,637 to 68,185 but the next two years saw numbers rise to a new high of 74,242 in 2003. Convictions in women rose from 7,868 to 9,539 during the same period.
The number of convictions for careless driving have fallen among both genders. In 1999, 29,180 men and 6,017 women were convicted, but by 2003 those figures had plunged to 18,115 and 3,406.