I am certainly not one of those male triumphalists who insist that men are better drivers. In fact, I think not as men are far more likely to be too risky (and to not ask directions when they need it). Thus, I was quite intrigued to read this little bit in an interesting Tom Vanderbilt piece in Slate about why you should back in when parking:
If the logic of back-in parking is so clear, why doesn’t everyone do it? Difficulty, or perceived difficulty, seems to be the reigning explanation. Casual sexism (of the sortsummed up by this video) holds that women struggle with back-in parking, although commenters of both genders termed it difficult on my blog. More troubling are studies that claim to find a measurable, if slight, parking “performance gap” between male and female drivers. One NHTSA study, “Field Measurement of Naturalistic Backing Behavior” (conducted to help design backup warning systems), found that “the male driver’s mean maximum backing speed was generally faster than the female’s and reached statistical significance on two of the tasks,” one of those tasks being “backing into a perpendicular parking slot.” A similar study, by Claudia C. Wolf and colleagues at Germany’s Ruhr University-Bochum, asked male and female drivers of varying experience levels to park an Audi A6 in various ways (back in, parallel, etc.) in a closed-off multistory car park. They found that women took longer to park the car than men. This might be seen as a result of the general tendency for men to take more risks in driving than women (e.g., men drive faster, closer to other vehicles, more often without seatbelts, more often under the influence of alcohol), but there was another interesting result: Even though men parked more quickly, they also parked more accurately, as measured by distance to neighboring cars. Of course, measuring these differences is easier than explaining them. Are there biological differences that give men an edge in handling a car, or do the results just reflect a wider societal belief that men should be better at handling a car? Some psychologists suggest that this belief itself affects the actual performance of drivers, in a phenomenon called “stereotype threat.” In a study in Australia, women drivers in a driving simulator who were confronted with negative stereotypes about women drivers were twice as likely to collide with a jaywalking pedestrian as women drivers not presented with the stereotype.
In case you didn’t feel like reading that whole paragraph, basically men are better at backing into spaces than women– faster and more accurate. Also, that stereotype threat is powerful stuff. Lastly, I’m going to stick with pulling in. Okay, lastly for real, Vanderbilt’s book Traffic is one of my favorite non-fiction books in recent years. Read it. Seriously.