- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2007


That age-old stereotype about dangerous female drivers is shattered in a big new traffic analysis: Male drivers have a 77 percent higher risk of dying in a car accident than women, based on miles driven.

And the author of the research says he takes it to heart when he travels — his wife takes the wheel.

“I put a mitt in my mouth and ride shotgun,” said David Gerard, a Carnegie Mellon University researcher who co-authored the U.S. road risk analysis.

The study holds plenty of surprises.

• The highway death rate is higher for cautious 82-year-old women than for risk-taking 16-year-old boys.

• New England is the safest region for drivers — despite all those stories about crazy Boston drivers.

• The safest passenger is a youngster strapped in a car seat and being driven during morning rush hour.

There are plans to make the Traffic STATS report public next week, but the Associated Press got an early look. The detailed and searchable analysis of road fatality statistics was conducted by Carnegie Mellon for AAA.

The analysis shows that some long-held assumptions about safety on U.S. highways don’t jibe with hard numbers. It lists the risk of road death by age, sex, type of vehicle, time of day and geographic region.

“We are finding comparisons that are surprising all the time,” said study co-author Paul Fischbeck, a Carnegie Mellon professor of social and decision sciences. “What is necessary now is to go through and do that second level of analysis to figure out why some of these things are true.”

For example, those dangerous 82-year-old women are 60 percent more likely to die on the road than a 16-year-old boy because they are so frail, said Anne McCartt, a research official at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, who was not part of the study.

“It’s an issue not of risk-taking behavior, but of fragility,” she said. The elderly are more likely to die when they are injured in an accident, she said, an explanation that Mr. Gerard and Mr. Fischbeck validate.

These elderly women have the nation’s highest risk of road death even when they’re not driving — five times higher than the national average. Right behind them are male drivers ages 16 to 23, with fatality rates four times higher than average.

Drivers in their 40s and 50s tie for the lowest risk of dying in an accident. But if you’re a man out at 2 a.m. Saturday on a motorcycle in the South, you may want to take out some more insurance.

By combining a batch of data of all types, you can construct the safest possible scenario on the road: That would involve a 4-year-old girl in a van or school bus, stuck in a Wednesday morning rush hour in New England in February. Of all the ages to be in a car, 4-year-olds have the lowest risk of death — probably because they are in child car seats and their parents drive more carefully, Mr. Fischbeck said.

“They are really protected; they’re being driven around in times of day when it’s very safe [and often in minivans],” he said. “It’s a win-win-win-win situation.”

As for men being more likely to die than women, Mr. McCartt and Mr. Fischbeck said men take more risks, speed more, and drink and drive more. “They do stupider things,” said Mr. Fischbeck, a former military pilot who has twin toddlers and a “totally unsafe” 1974 Volkswagen Thing.

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