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Saturday, May 28, 2011

It's a Liberation!



For those of you who are unfamiliar with the video, 32 year old Manal al-Sharif is a women's rights activist amongst Saudi Arabia's hyper male dominant culture. Her most recent cause is actually something very close to my heart, and something that many of us have taken for granted-- the right to get into the driver's seat.

After watching the video, many of us would be very quick to cry injustice and criticize the culture's antiquated thinking. But when I take a step back, I'm afraid we aren't so different over here.

A couple of weekends ago, my friend and I were cruising along the BQE when a car cuts me off. The car wasn't driving with the typical trademark New York City aggression, but instead, it rather carelessly drifted into my lane due to a likely failure to check its blind spot. I gave the car a warning honk and it quickly swerved back.

It's an unnecessary habit, but I would often try to pull alongside the car that wronged me if only to just have a glance at what sort of jerk-face is sitting behind the wheel. Lo' and behold, it was a woman. To this observation, and because this is the second woman we've encountered to have earned a WTF (two for two), my friend responds, "I can no longer defend my gender."

I know I'm minority when I say this but it is possible to put an end to the "women drivers" stereotype. After all, statistically speaking, men are charged with a higher insurance premium. According to insweb.com (not the most reputable source, I'll admit), women are almost 50 percent less likely than men to have a DUI/DWI on their driving record. Furthermore, they're 10 percent less likely to have a moving violation on their record. So if it isn't a gender issue, then what is it?


My theory is that women drivers are also 50% more likely to be what some call "Sunday drivers," or drivers that only get behind the wheel on occasion. Based on a sample set of female friends and acquaintances, many simply prefer not to drive if they don't have to and designate their boyfriend, husband, dad or brother for the task instead. Conveniently, their lower frequency behind the wheel also explains why they receive less traffic citations.

But really, it's that infrequency in driving a car that perpetuates the issue. When I first began driving, I was very anxious behind the wheel as well. I was young, inexperienced, and I played a lot of Grand Theft Auto. I clearly did not know what I was doing. But now, after six years of practice, I've had to have improved. And in the end, it really is about the seat time.

Nevermind the honks you get and nevermind your backseat drivers screaming at you when you're only getting started. No one is born to tackle Queensboro Bridge at rush hour. It's one of the most unnatural things in existence and you will never be comfortable with it. But you can at least get used to it.

Seat time is a numbers game. As a person logs more and more driving hours, that person will more likely encounter testing moments. Drivers will learn from these experiences and naturally, their situational awareness and their ability to react to a sudden obstacle will improve. Instead of freaking out and stomping on the accelerator when trying to find the brake, an experienced driver can calmly recall an instance and use their experience to get themselves out of harm's way.

Ladies, your notoriety for awful driving is not your fault-- at least not completely. I hope Manal al-Sharif and your Saudi soul sisters who boldly rocked the boat have empowered you to go out there and actively support their cause. But more than that, and more than proving a long standing stereotype wrong, hopefully you'll realize that you are ultimately practicing safe driving for yourself.

Have an awesome long weekend, everybody!

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