What is it about men and cars? Level-headed, kindly men can turn into maniacs when they get behind a wheel. I recently drove with one of the calmest, sweetest men in the world, and found myself quietly resolving, between praying to God for deliverance, that if I ever arrived home in one piece I would finally ring up my solicitor and make my will. Just in case.

Tailgating, flashing their lights at cars who won't move over, overtaking on hills ("I just know that nothing's coming"), parking at bus-stops, backing down one-way streets if not actually driving down them, doing spectacular U-turns on motorways - I've suffered all of these at the hands of male drivers.

It's terribly easy to put it all down to stupidity and childishness, and also to account for their inability to ask the way as a sign of an almost pathological weakness when it comes to asking for help. But I think it's about innate masculinity. These days men may help with the washing-up, put the rubbish out, discuss their feelings, and even cry, but when it comes to cars they feel the call of the wild; the hunter comes out in them, and you can no more stop it than you can stop the cosiest, fattest, purriest old cat chasing after birds.

The inability to ask for help is not a weakness in that it's a fear of dependence; rather, it's a great desire for independence. A man would no more ask a local the way, than a primitive hunter would ask his mate which way the deer went. They have to find out for themselves. They only feel happy if they can do it alone; they like to orientate themselves with maps and an innate sense of direction (men are generally meant to have a better sense of direction than women). And perhaps they should be admired for these qualities, rather than condemned.

There are lots of things that women do that men can't understand. They traditionally spend ages getting dressed, fussing about their hair, getting anxious about the size of their thighs, asking nervously whether they look OK.

Men often find this preoccupation quite extraordinary, and, sometimes, maddening. But it's a sign of femininity that they go along with fairly tolerantly, despite the fact that it's a mystery to them.

Hannah and her husband should work out the routes long before they get into the car.

If they are visiting a stately home, Hannah should ring up the house first and find out exactly where it is. She should be armed with full instructions how to get there - and from every direction - so that she can become her husband's navigator and they can work as a team. She should contribute information - such as how many miles it is to the next village - all of which will make him feel more in control and less angry. If she tends to confuse left with right, she should write a little L on her left thumb and an R on her right so that she never gets her directions wrong. The more trust her husband can put in his navigator, the less likely he is to drive too fast. They should leave plenty of time for a journey, to take any urgency out of it.

And if it reassures Hannah, she will know from our letters that she's not alone. Even royalty is not immune. One of the Queen's recent biographers quoted an eyewitness account of Prince Philip's threat to put his wife out of the car if she once more voiced her fears that he was driving too fast.

what readers say

This could be me

I read your "next week's dilemma" of 20 November rather expecting to see my wife's name at the end of it!

I cannot explain why I change so much just by getting behind the wheel of a car. This coming Sunday we have to travel to the other side of London to collect some furniture and I will, as before, set off determined not to get annoyed with other drivers, or Lynda's comments such as "next left, no right, no, left ... I think".

Lynda and I really enjoy travelling to places I know the way to.

I can assure Hannah that she is not alone - and if she sees a red Fiat Punto indicating left, then right, then left again, she'll know it's us.

David Buck

Woodford Bridge, Essex

My husband changed

I, too, have the most wonderful husband who has always been generous and considerate, kind and loving - until he got behind the wheel of a car, when he used to become an aggressive man who terrified us, and whom the children and I hardly recognised. Going anywhere was a nightmare, when all our stomachs turned over. The very thought of his driving took all the pleasure out of going on holiday - and it went on for years. We tried reasoning, pleading, the lot - but failed to make him understand how we felt.

I finally had enough, and bought my own car, after which my mother, children, even friends always wanted to go with my car and not his; but he still couldn't understand why we were so distressed, although he would not have dreamt of distressing us in any other way.

Then I was very ill and almost died, and he changed completely and is now the most careful and considerate of drivers. It took a frightening experience and something very big to change him.

I have been very lucky; usually, I'm sure, you're on to a loser trying to change this type of driver.

M Bowen

Haydon Bridge


Why not go by train?

What earthly point is there in embarking on a motoring jolly if your husband is going to ruin the day with his bad temper and potentially fatal attacks of road rage? Next time, Hannah, insist that you both travel by train or coach. However nice, intelligent, funny and kind your husband may be, he is a potential danger to himself and, more important, to you and other road users. In addition, you will have the bonus of knowing that by not using your car you will be contributing less to the damaging effects of pollution on these historic buildings that you enjoy visiting at weekends.

Julia Sellers

London W1

He's just a male driver ...

I believe that what you are describing here in not necessarily a dark side of your husband's otherwise gentle character, but simply a facet of many male personalities all round the country. By saying that he is intelligent and has never had an accident, you imply that he is probably quite a good driver. If one is allowed to be sexist here, a car is probably, after his family and house, a man's most prized possession, and how he drives it is extremely important.

Many men have immense pride in their ability to drive well. To ask a pedestrian for advice is, in his eyes, admitting defeat, and compromising his skills as a superior driver. With regard to being bad tempered with other drivers, this is not road rage, but merely extreme frustration at their not doing what he would do, and holding everyone up in the process. Driving is without doubt a stressful business, and your husband obviously feels it more keenly than some.

My suggestion is that you try to play relaxing music in the car, and talk about things other than the journey. I cannot draw any parallels with female habits and behaviour, but men are equally surprised at the amount of stress from which a woman suffers over her hair, make-up etc. This appears to a man pointless and stupid, as the driving stress appears to a woman. We are all made up differently, and if, all the rest of the time he is kind and gentle, there is nothing really abnormal.

Simon Blackburn

Bungay, Suffolk

Confront your husband

Hannah should show her husband the letter she sent to Virginia and then state quite simply that she will refuse to go out with him in the car as long as he behaves in the way she describes. When friends and relations ask questions because she refuses to let him drive her, she should tell them the truth. I expect that he will find that embarrassing.

I believe that psychologists regard such masculine behaviour as evidence of immaturity and at the root of the modern phenomenon called road rage. Like many women, I regard such behaviour as puerile and would refuse to pander to such tantrums.

Mrs Heward

Horncastle, Lincolnshire

next week's dilemma

My boyfriend and I have been going out together for five years and he has now asked me to give up my flat and live with him. It's an obvious progression in our relationship, but for some reason I feel rather alarmed by it. I often stay over at his flat and he stays at mine, but living together seems such a big move. It's not as if he's asked me to marry him - we obviously will someday, I feel - so I don't know why I feel instinctive trepidation at the idea. Ilse

Letters are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send your personal experiences or comments to me at the features department, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax 0171-293 2182) by Tuesday morning. And if you have a dilemma of your own that you would like to share, please let me know.