Driving me mad

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The Independent Online
For many years, the maverick US Senator William Proxmire used to confer the "Golden Fleece" award on the most useless piece of research commissioned in the preceding 12 months. Famous winners included the project set up to answer the question: "Why do people not like very long queues?" and one looking into the sex life of the Japanese quail.

Some folk will believe the AA is angling for this award with its pounds 145,000 project, announced this week, to uncover the behavioural differences between men and women drivers. The psychologists at Reading University charged with this task will not want for commonsensical observations from friends and acquaintances. After all, most of us know all about other people's behaviour when it comes to driving. Differences? Of course there are differences.

Consider first this month's cases of the flashing golfer and the nude Parisienne. Matey thought it would be pleasant for women if he drove alongside them on the M27 at 80mph and indicated his willy. His victim calmly took his number and called the police. Madamoiselle, on the other hand, caused a six-car pile-up simply by driving her car while naked. Proving either that women are far calmer and less excitable drivers than men, or that men's reflexes are much quicker - or (most likely) that La Francaise's breasts were a great deal more attractive than his todger.

It used to be much harder to make such comparisons. The only women who drove were aviatrixes, or those trained on ambulances during the war, while all men - however feeble-minded - were expected to get behind the wheel. But today more women than men are on the roads, and it is possible to make useful generalisations.

Here's the biggest. Men are aggressive, dangerous and fast. Women are defensive, irritating and slow. That car which roars up behind you, sits six inches off your tail, flashes its lights and then overtakes - straight into the path of an oncoming juggernaut being driven by a drunken Pole - that car has a man behind the wheel. But the other car, the one meandering at exactly the speed limit in the centre of the road, while its driver sits hunched over the wheel looking neither behind nor to the side - that is a woman driver. Men cause accidents, women cause delays.

Take road rage. Several times this summer I witnessed men carrying on preposterous duels on busy roads and getting out at lights to shout at each other. "You're lucky you've got kids in the car," one teenager yelled at a middle-aged rager, "otherwise I'd thump you one."

In the heat men turned nasty. But something happened to the women as well. Not rage so much as spite. Women suffering from Road Spite would, for instance, give the impression they were making way for another motorist to pull out and join a line of traffic - and then, at the last moment, instead close the gap. Or they would approach green traffic lights very, very slowly - and accelerate away just as they changed, leaving everyone else stuck.

Now that vast numbers of women buy cars for themselves this difference is being increasingly manifested in the names that vehicles are marketed under. The Hugos and the Charmians of the ad industry know a thing or two when it comes to appealing to our gender specifics. So for men we have the Ford Probe, the Furio, Volcane, Scorpio and, best of all, the Ferrari Testarossa (which presumably means Red Hot Balls in Italian). I intend to go a step further and make a fortune by marketing a turbocharged Reliant, aimed at the younger buyer, under the name of the Fukyu 2.

As for the ladies, they have the Prelude, the Synergie, the Fiesta, any make of Volvo and the delightfully suggestive Clio. Here my ploy will be to push sales of the Nissan Womb - a people carrier with the most advanced safety features. Once in, you'll never want to come out.

You see, it's all so obvious. And all I need for my new car ideas is a little starting capital. Something like pounds 145,000 would just about cover it. But where can you get that kind of money?

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