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Why men suffer from a one-track mind while on the road

31st March 2011

  • New research shows that male drivers, especially young male drivers, are twice as likely to be distracted by an attractive passenger than female drivers
  • Over one in ten men admit that an attractive passenger is detrimental to their driving

A new study of 1,554 motorists* from Direct Line car insurance, has backed up theories that the male libido could be one of the reasons why more men than women are involved in car accidents.

The findings show that one in six (15 per cent) male drivers admit that they cannot keep their mind (and their eyes) on the road when they have an attractive passenger in the car. This distraction affects twice as many male as female motorists (7 per cent), perhaps explaining why men are more prone to prangs than women. These results correlate claims statistics from Direct Line, which show that costs arising from male car accident claims cost as much as 55 per cent more than claims by women.

Male motorists admit that an attractive passenger can impact their concentration while behind the wheel: half would engage in conversation with the passenger (49 per cent) and nearly one in ten (eight per cent) admit to taking their eyes off the road for an extended amount of time. The allure of an attractive passenger also impacts on everything from not wearing a seatbelt (3 per cent) to actually causing an accident while trying to impress a gorgeous girl (2 per cent). The data shows that female drivers are much better behaved than their male counterparts, with only one in twenty (5 per cent) owning up to a deterioration in their driving skills when accompanied by an attractive passenger.

The research also highlights how young drivers in particular (aged 18-25) are driven to distraction, as almost one in four (24 per cent) lose their focus on the road when accompanied by a desirable passenger. Over a quarter of young drivers (27 per cent) regularly act as the designated driver after a night out with friends, and almost half (43 per cent) take the wheel on road trips, so they are already facing multiple distractions from rowdy passengers before adding the element of sexual tension.

These findings are also supported by an observational car simulator study conducted by Transport Research Laboratory, which found that young male drivers become over-confident behind the wheel when they have pretty female passengers in the car**. The young male study participants were observed driving faster and were more prone to tailgating (leaving a smaller time headway and safety margin from the car in front) when there was a female passenger in the car, compared to when they were driving with a male passenger or driving alone.

Conversely, women are more preoccupied with what their passengers think about their driving skills, with 26 per cent admitting to worrying about this. They are also far more likely to be distracted if it’s their mum rather than their boyfriend in the passenger seat.

Psychologist David Moxon said: “Physiological research suggests that where sexual matters are concerned, men are more visual animals than women***. So it makes absolute sense that when driving, men would be more likely to have their head turned by a passenger that they are attracted to. Throughout evolution men have always flaunted their sexual prowess to attract a female and so it makes sense that they view driving as a chance to catch the attention of a mate. It’s also interesting that previous studies have also shown that women rate men as more attractive if they drive a higher status car****.

Andy Goldby, director of motor underwriting at Direct Line, said: “It is good news that groups of young people are now appointing designated non-drinking drivers after an evening out. However, the combination of late nights, inebriated passengers and sexual attraction could be a dangerous combination for young men who should be keeping their eyes focused on the road. Getting your date (and your other friends) home safely is far more impressive than having an accident!”

To help encourage young drivers to gain more experience on the road before owning their own car, Direct Line offers a discount on motor insurance for young drivers who take the Pass Plus test and allows young motorists to build up their own no claims discount as a named driver on their parents’ car insurance policy.

For more information, please contact Natalie Wheeler at Unity on 0207 440 9819 / natalie@hellounity.com or Katreena Dare on 020 7440 9824 / katreena@hellounity.com

Notes to editors

* Opinium Research carried out an online survey for Direct Line of 2,094 UK adults between 22nd – 28th February 2011. Of these respondents, 1,554 were drivers.
** Driving with passengers by C Diels, N Reed, R Robbins, Transport Research Laboratory for Direct Line, November 2010
*** Cloutier et al (2008)
**** Dunn & Searle (2010) British Journal of Psychology

Direct Line

Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides car, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

Direct Line general insurance policies are underwritten by U K Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England No 1179980. U K Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Direct Line and UK Insurance limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc. Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0845 246 3761 or visiting www.directline.com