Women's worrying response to car crime

Whilst women feel more distress than men following road rage, car-jacking or vandalism, they are less likely to do anything about it, other than worry.

This was the key finding from a poster presentation at the British Psychological Society's Annual Conference in Glasgow.

PhD psychology student Holly Gwyther and Senior Lecturers Dr Carol Holland and Dr Ros Hill, from Aston University, explored drivers' behaviour following traumatic vehicle-related crimes. The aim was to compare men's and women's driving related behaviour following a frightening event with existing research on driver behaviour post accident. The research was sponsored by DriveSafe and Goodmedia

This study looked at criminal victimisations such as car theft, vandalism and car-jacking, as well as road rage.

The researchers found that women were less likely than men to change their driving behaviour following a disturbing incident. Men were less distressed than women by such incidents and were much more likely to make practical changes to their driving habits as a result.

Holly Gwyther explained: "What is surprising is that although women are much more distressed after a frightening experience on the road than men they appear less willing than men to change their behaviour. Men might be less distressed because they simply don't report feeling anxious or it might be because they actually make positive changes in their driving and in doing so assuage their fears."

Feeling guilty was the one situation where both men and women were more likely to change their driving behaviours. If they felt in some way to blame, men were more likely to drive cautiously, maintaining a safe distance and reducing speed. Conversely women were more likely to adopt avoidance coping strategies, such as driving less and steering clear of certain locations, roads or weather conditions.

A total of 395 drivers (267 women and 128 men) were surveyed during 2009. Participants ranged from 18 to 78 years of age and driving experience ranged from two months to 55 years.

The understanding gained from this and from planned supplementary studies will be used to design an education and behaviour change package for women drivers.

Given the recent price rise in women's insurance premiums, equalising the differential costs between men and women, this piece of research adds to the debate about gender differences and risk perception behind the wheel.