DWH: Driving while human?
October 2, 2006 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Have there been any reputable, peer-reviewed-type studies of driving skill that break it down by age, race, gender, experience, etc.?

So, living in San Francisco (and working in Richmond/Sunset), I hear a comment about Asian drivers oh, every time I get in a car with someone else at the wheel. And inevitably, it leads to a discussion about racial stereotypes, cultural differences, rationalizations, but no actual proof on either side of whether or not this "observable fact" is actually a fact. My own position leans heavily towards "confirmation bias" (as it does for similar stereotypes about women drivers). On the other hand, I do believe that people holding cell phones to their ears while driving are a menace and that old people with poor vision/visibility are worse drivers -- both of these things seem based on physical realities (distracted concentration, inevitable effect of aging). And it has been suggested to me in all seriousness that similar things might affect Asian drivers: shortness leading to poor visibility; cultural norms that lead to women learning to drive later in life; driving conditions in Asia are different and the transposing of those norms to American roads appears to be bad driving. In other words, many people I know claim that there's a non-racist, culturally-relativist explanation for what seems like a stupid racist stereotype.

So long story short, I want to know if anyone has actually studied this. Because if I could just read a study (or three), and point people there, it might forestall the endless conversation somewhat. Broader studies would ideally offer the same potential for the women/old people/young people comments, so they're definitely equally welcome.
posted by obliquicity to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The insurance industry would know this, and charge them higher rates, if they were more likely to be involved in accidents. The insurance industry has every incentive to do the best research it possibly can on the question of which drivers are riskier, and they have a lot of money to devote to getting it right -- so even though their research isn't peer-reviewed, it is probably as good as it can be. As far as I know, Asians do not have higher driver's insurance rates than other racial groups. But men, for example, have higher rates than women -- so that's a data point suggesting that women are less dangerous drivers than men.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:58 PM on October 2, 2006

LobsterMitten- In some (many? all?) states, it would be thoroughly illegal for insurance companies to base rates on race.
posted by JMOZ at 6:03 PM on October 2, 2006

I've never heard of any such research, but I doubt that an insurance company could charge rates which vary on the race of the policy holder although I don't understand how they manage to discrimate based on sex and martial status either.
posted by peeedro at 6:04 PM on October 2, 2006

Yes JMOZ, I agree it seems that way, but what peeedro said. They do clearly give different rates based on sex.

Maybe they covertly charge different rates based on residential segregation (eg, supposing that Asians were actually worse drivers... if a lot of Asians lived in a certain neighborhood, the insurance co could charge higher rates to customers with those addresses)? If this true, you'd need to find neighborhoods with very high Asian (ie, immigrant) or Asian-American (ie born in US with Asian ancestry) populations , depending on which group you are mainly interested in, and find out if insurance rates are higher there, cancelling out for difference in crime rate.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:57 PM on October 2, 2006

The Asian stereotype is that they are worse drivers, not more dangerous drivers. Indeed, the stereotype is often that they are very often very, very slow and, therefore, probably (from the insurance companies' point of view) better. For more objective analysis, which is what is wanted, this table shows that the worst drivers are from Wyoming (defined by fatalities) where, I suspect, the number of Asians might be lower than CA, where obliquicity is from. However, this table seems to suggest that Indians are the worst which will only reinforce the stereotypes Brits have of Indian drivers.
posted by TheRaven at 7:39 PM on October 2, 2006

Best answer: There's a ton of research in this area. Go to MedLine and search on "race motor vehicle," for example (here is my results list). In my cursory search, I didn't see anything on Asian drivers specifically, but I will leave it to you to dig further.

You can also run queries on the national database of traffic fatalities here.
posted by acridrabbit at 8:22 PM on October 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

My dad always said, men drive badly because of aggression, and women drive badly because of incompetence.

He is racist against every race including his own too...
posted by tabulem at 9:35 PM on October 2, 2006

I've never seen such a study but I'd love to see one. Most of the time you'll just hear anecdotal evidence. Heck, I see it every day. Our area has a huge Asian population (upwards of 30% according to recent census data.) and I quite frequently see Asian drivers exhibiting the same bad driving behavior.
* Driving 10-20 mph under the speed limit, regardless of the lane.
* Stopping 2 full car lengths behind the stop sign (and then taking off through it) or behind the vehicle in front of them at stop lights
* Backing out of a parking place and struggling to turn the wheel in place
* Pulling into a driveway and blocking traffic while seeking out a parking spot.

Those are just things that I see on a regular basis. I see them so often that I was starting to wonder if the Chinese version of the DMV manual was different.

Too bad such a study will not be done in our lifetimes. It'd just be called racist.
posted by drstein at 9:36 PM on October 2, 2006

Response by poster: Um, thanks drstein, for being exactly the person I am trying to address?

As far as "dangerous" goes, I often find slow drivers (in inappropriate contexts like the fast lane) as dangerous as fast drivers in the slow lane. And I don't necessarily equate "dangerous" with "deadly" -- it's dangerous to run me off the road at 25 mph, even if it's not likely to kill me. I suppose I would say that the concept of "safe bad drivers" is an oxymoron.

acidrabbit: thanks! This is why I asked MeFi -- at dinner I was actually *joking* about how someone would point me to Medline, because it never occurred to me that there might actually be answers there -- my (fruitless) literature searches were all in social science databases.

Now, I have some reading to do...
posted by obliquicity at 11:45 PM on October 2, 2006

I havent seen any actualy evidence of a racial preconidtion to driving poorly (I bike in an urban area, so I see a lot of bad decisions by drivers but there is no typical profile they meet). But I also lived in China for a year and they tended to be pretty terrible drivers by and large (but that is likely due to fairly lax enforcement of traffic laws, and a country where most people have only been driving for a few years at most). So I really do not think there is anything to this, I would guess that some people pay more attention when the person who cuts them off or drives like an old lady matches a certain profile then when that person looks like you.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:33 AM on October 3, 2006

would guess that some people pay more attention when the person who cuts them off or drives like an old lady matches a certain profile then when that person looks like you.
The fancy-pantsy term for this phenomenon is "confirmation bias."

I don't understand how they manage to discrimate based on sex and martial status either.
That probably isn't explicitly illegal, unlike racial discrimination.

My guess is that while there might be some correlation between race/national origin and determining factors for driving skill (e.g., immigrants from a country where people don't drive much will be worse drivers than a native-born USian of the same age,) there are enough variables that looking at the underlying determining factors is probably a better predictor (an immigrant driving since he was a kid is probably a better risk than my Dad, a native NYer who didn't learn to drive until he was 35.)
posted by Opposite George at 10:45 AM on October 3, 2006

"Um, thanks drstein, for being exactly the person I am trying to address?"

If you're saying I made a stupid, racist stereotype, then you're part of the problem and not the solution.

posted by drstein at 12:07 PM on October 6, 2006

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