Looking for a way to liven up a dull evening? Try asking a group of men and women which gender has the safest driving habits. You're likely to spark some spirited discussions.
MetLife tackled that question in a September 2011 MetLife American Safety Pulse Poll. Its survey found that more than half the women questioned (51 percent) believe that they're the safer drivers. Only 24 percent were unsure about the issue.
Men don't have that same confidence. Only 39 percent of the males surveyed identified their sex as the safer drivers, and almost as many (35 percent) said that they weren't sure.
There are some good reasons that women claim the title for driving safety.
Men are cited for reckless driving more than three times as often as women, according to a 2008 analysis by Quality Planning, a company that validates policyholder information for U.S. auto insurers. Men also were three times as likely to be charged with drunken driving offenses and with seat belt violations. Their citation rates for driving offenses like speeding, failure to yield and stop sign/signal violations also were higher.
The Quality Planning analysis also found that women were about 27 percent less likely than men to be found at fault when they were involved in an accident.
A review of car accidents in Idaho uncovered some additional evidence that women are safer drivers. The Idaho Transportation Department found that while about half of the state's licensed drivers were males, they were the drivers in 57 percent of all accidents and in 72 percent of all fatal accidents in 2010.
Insurance companies -- with the consent of state insurance departments -- recognize the differences in the way that the two sexes drive. Idaho is one of many states that allow insurers to set car insurance rates on the basis of gender and age as long as actual proof of difference in risk exists. Because men -- especially men under 30 -- are involved in more accidents per miles driven than any other population group, insurers charge higher premiums for drivers in that category.
One small consolation for males: If understanding safety features in cars could make drivers safer, men would be the definite winners. The MetLife poll found that men were nearly three times as likely as women to be familiar with vehicle safety technologies like electronic stability control, which can prevent rollover accidents.