Rowan Pelling: Don't listen to Clarkson. He hasn't a clue about women

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The Independent Online

For years I have been conducting a one-woman war against the prejudice levelled at women drivers. It's not a verbal campaign so much as a practical, hands-on demonstration of the fact that it is perfectly possible for a person with XX chromosomes to corner like a racer, to drive up the bumper of tourists and, above all, to reverse her car into a tiny space. Given a choice of parking slots, I will always choose the one in which it is hardest to fit my unwieldy Fiat Stilo.

For years I have been conducting a one-woman war against the prejudice levelled at women drivers. It's not a verbal campaign so much as a practical, hands-on demonstration of the fact that it is perfectly possible for a person with XX chromosomes to corner like a racer, to drive up the bumper of tourists and, above all, to reverse her car into a tiny space. Given a choice of parking slots, I will always choose the one in which it is hardest to fit my unwieldy Fiat Stilo.

Somehow the experience is reminiscent of lacing a matronly body into tight stays. Even when I drove a nippy Punto, I was far too macho to use the patronising "girlie" button (which engaged assisted steering) when I could wrestle my vehicle by sheer brute force into a space the size of a wheelie bin. Someone had to balance the unhelpful impression being given by my neighbour, Belinda, whose tiny Volkswagen would jut into the path of oncoming traffic from a space large enough to berth the QEII. But it seems all my efforts were superfluous.

It's official: women are better drivers than men. Or so says the Vienna-based Organisation for Road Safety whose cross-Europe survey has revealed that women are 35 per cent less likely to be involved in road accidents than men. So I should be feeling vindicated and laying high fives on my fellow Penelope Pitstops. But I can't help harbouring a suspicion that this survey is being misinterpreted. In my experience truly atrocious drivers rarely cause road accidents. Bad drivers emit an unconscious panic signal to other motorists by the way they weave up two traffic lanes, turn right without indicating and suddenly dip to 25mph while trying to wrestle open a packet of Pringles. More often than not they drive 4x4s which sends another covert signal that, however appalling their road skills, they will be safe in their reinforced body cage while your crummy little Fiat will crumple on impact when they swerve at an invisible moose.

No, there are two types of people who cause accidents: young men hammering their mother's Fiesta and good drivers. The young men are deluded after drinking five pints and the good drivers are so adept at taking evasive action at 70mph to avoid the woman knitting at the wheel of her Toyota Land Cruiser that they crash straight into an escaped moose from the travelling zoo. Good drivers, whatever Jeremy Clarkson says, can be of either gender. As far as I remember, model Jodie Kidd still tops the time trials on the Top Gear board. And one of the best books I've read for a long while, Miranda Seymour's The Bugatti Queen, tells the remarkable story of Hélène Delangle, a French exotic dancer turned racing driver, who won many Grand Prix back in the 1930s.

Where I do agree with the carpers is that a disproportionate number of execrable drivers are female. This is partly because the sort of frothy cars that are often aimed at women aren't conducive to developing motoring skills. Will a Corsa help you to feel the road as you zanily tackle a Z-bend? I still remember the crazy run-away milk-float feeling of wrestling my friend Polly's 2CV round a roundabout and suddenly realising that it explained why she was so terrifying at the wheel.

Driving examiners reinforce this by expecting incompetence from female candidates; the friends of mine who drove up kerbs all passed their tests first time. Whereas I, who bombed along flawlessly, was passed on the fourth attempt only when I had learnt to feign driving like a geriatric nun. Even so, I didn't knock over a petrol pump on the day I passed my test; it was my brother. It takes a man to do something as spectacularly improbable as that.

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