Girls driving under the male influence

Experts blame the rise in deadly DUIs among young women on the death of femininity

Topics: Feminism, Broadsheet, Teenagers,

Girls driving under the male influenceCandace Mellon of Sarasota, Florida (R) drinks from a beer bong in the infield before the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 50th Daytona 500 race at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida February 17, 2008. REUTERS/Brian Kersey (UNITED STATES) (Credit: © Brian Kersey / Reuters)

He stumbles across a suburban lawn littered with crumpled plastic cups. A pair of car keys dangle from a fingertip and a young woman is wrapped around his arm. He’s the stereotypical image of a drunk driver that has been imprinted on my brain after countless PSAs and bad made-for-TV movies. He’s a close relative of another unflattering male archetype: the bad teenage driver with a serious need for speed and a devil-may-care attitude. But two new studies suggest that ladies may be challenging these assumptions. Not only has the number of young women driving drunk and getting into fatal crashes reached a historic high, but more teen girls than boys now admit to aggressive driving.

Researchers looked at alcohol-related accidents over a 15-year period and found that the proportion of female drivers between age 16 and 24 involved in deadly crashes increased by 3.1 percent, while the rate among young men rose 1.2 percent, according to HealthDay News. As for sober but nonetheless dangerous driving, insurer Allstate reports that 27 percent of teenage girls admit to speeding, compared to 19 percent of boys. The report, Shifting Teen Attitudes: 2009 State of Teen Driving, also found that 16 percent of teenage girls classify themselves as aggressive drivers, while 13 percent of boys do. 

Interestingly enough, in separately analyzing both reports, experts arrive at a shared explanation: Young women are acting like dudes. In its coverage of the Allstate report, the Chicago Tribune quotes Allan Williams, former chief scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, as saying: “As more young women participate in activities like competitive sports and take on a more assertive lifestyle, they’re narrowing the gender gap when it comes to risk taking in all aspects of their life.” 



As for the HealthDay News article, reporter Steven Reinberg paraphrases Laura Dean-Mooney, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), as suggesting that “women are picking up some of the bad habits that men have.” Dr. Judy Schaechter, a pediatrics professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told the news service that women’s rising drunk driving rates might be blamed on the “loss of the notion of what it means to be feminine.” Presumably, she means that it’s now more acceptable for women to get sloppy-drunk right alongside men.

If this all sounds familiar, it should: Last summer, Kate Harding criticized a trend piece on mothers who drink and drive, which quoted the CEO of MADD as saying that “women are picking up some of the dangerously bad habits of men.” (Judging from the paraphrased quote above, the organization may need to refresh its talking points.) She summed up the findings like so:

What we have here is a trend of statistically significant increases in the number of women arrested for drunk driving and the number of women who say they abuse alcohol — neither of which is a solid indicator of the number of drunk women on the road, given police discretion in making arrests and the notorious unreliability of self-reported data — which is being spun into a socially significant trend: Women are turning into a bunch of alcoholic narcissists who must be stopped!

Taken together, these two recent reports present similar problems: One is based on self-reporting and the other, while at least built on solid evidence, raises an alarm that is dramatically muted when you consider that the rate among young women is still far lower than that of young men. The fact is, men still account for the vast majority of fatal drunk driving accidents. Yes, it appears the drunk-driving gap is ever so slowly narrowing — but as Harding put it: “OK, well, maybe let me know when the gap gets a little narrower than 80/20″ (the current rate in California). And when that happens, maybe I’ll spill some more digital ink on how greater equality and social freedom is bound to produce some less than desirable effects.

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>