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our relationship, with the car

By enelson
Friday, January 19th, 2007 at 1:09 pm in driving.

Rocky road in the Lake District

It came as no surprise to me that a study due out next week concludes that men have a 77-percent greater chance of dying in a fatal auto accident than women.

The Associated Press received an advance look at the study, and immediately jumped into the well-worn stereotype of the “woman driver,” who makes her man crazy with hare-brained maneuvers and an inability to parallel park:

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 a major new U.S. road risk analysis.

Ok, so I may have chuckled a bit as I questioned the wisdom of highlighting a sexist assumption by placing it in the second paragraph of the story. I understand it was to contrast the sentiment with the study’s findings, but still, we have the researcher affirming our ugly bias, so there must be something to it, right?

My own amusement grows out of personal experience, much like the researcher’s. Driving with my wife is often a graduate-level test of interpersonal communication.

It’s not that I don’t value her motoring expertise. Like so many things in a relationship, it’s a question of control.

When I’m in control, I feel confident that our Toyota Matrix is not going to brush up against those hedges on the side of the road. I know that my wife feels the same way when she’s behind the wheel. I don’t think either of us is differently abled when it comes to driving. It’s just that we can’t stand our own driving, as evaluated from the discomfort of the passenger’s seat.

That disclaimer on the record, I’ll be frank: My wife can’t drive.

She tailgates. She speeds. She parks too far inside the garage, or not far enough. She changes gears too early, lugging the engine and shaving years off the life of our car that still has several more years of payments left.

Did I mention that it was HER fault that the garage door scraped paint off the bumper?

But do I complain? No. Never. Almost never. Only when I just can’t keep it to myself or when I can no longer hold my hands over my eyes.

Just let her ride “shotgun” (what a quaint expression in a marriage), however, and there is no infraction, perceived or imagined, too small to escape a Nancy Grace-style malediction.

Imagine what it was like when I was the driver licensed to operate our rental for a week of pastoral comfort in England’s Lake District. It’s hard enough driving on the left when you’re alone or with a friend or colleague who’s too polite to voice their surging mortal angst. With my beloved, it was one long tirade of “We’re running into the stone fence!” or “Watch out for that lamb!” and “Just stop! I’m taking the bus!”

And all the while, I’m driving on the wrong side of the road just as safe as you please. There were the two momentary coincidences of tires and curb, but that was fresh out of the airport rental lot, so cut the guy a break, ok?

Lake District road photo linked from

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5 Responses to “our relationship, with the car”

  1. jim lynch Says:

    Mr. Nelson; I had to comment about the statistics on the elevated odds of males dying in an auto accident. Did anyone conducting that report take into consideration that males make up for over ninety percent of drivers?

  2. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Jim, I was remiss in not mentioning, as the AP story does, that the stats are per miles driven, so we males get killed proportionately more, not just numerically more.

  3. Bruce De Benedictis Says:

    So how does your wife feel about your driving?

  4. Capricious Commuter Says:

    You’re not familiar with Nancy Grace’s infamous invective? My wife finds my driving to be nerve-wracking, and she frequently shares those feelings with me.

  5. Bruce De Benedictis Says:

    Everyone believes they drive better than everyone else. That is why there are so many traffic accidents.

    Similarly, everyone thinks they pay more in taxes than they get in governments services. That is why there are deficits!

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