By Carol Natukunda and Diana Ninsiima
There is a battle of the sexes on our roads; a battle of who is behind the wheels. If a woman is driving, motorists blame her for everything, from being too slow to being too lax. “Oh, she is a woman! Women are slow!
Oh Women, oh women...”
And if it is the man driving badly, someone will still yell: “Why do you drive like a woman?”
Solome Nakaweesi-Kimbugwe, an international consultant on women and human rights is irritated with road users who have no respect for women. “For men, it’s a form of bullying,” she says.
Ben Mwaka, was teased when he suddenly turned without “indicating.”
“Are you a woman?” they asked. But not all women are bad drivers. Look at super lady Susan Muwonge, a revered champion rally driver. “It is about confidence on the road,” she says.
Alice Nyambura, 43, has arguably set a record as the female bus driver.
In an interview with the local media last year, Nyambura said she receives thunderous applause from passengers every time she assumes the driver’s seat.
A widow and single mother of four Nyambura has worked at Gaaga bus along Kampala-Arua route for two years, Nile Coach, on the same route for three years, Kaliita bus on the Kampala-Nairobi route for one year, before joining Swift Safaris bus company which plies the Kampala- Mbarara route. Nyambura says driving is not scary. “All you need is the skills.”
A CASE OF CHAUVINISM?
According to Nakaweesi, some men feel threatened by a woman who drives a car, or one that appears to be higher in social status than they are.
“That is why taxi drivers and boda boda riders are the main people that hurl insults at women and younger men. These are guys who think women cannot own cars except if they sleep with him, or that women cannot drive big cars or that women are incapable of driving,” she says.
In cases where your car has broken down or the gears seem to be stuck, men would immediately volunteer to come and help. But it is often in disguise. “It makes some men feel man enough. Others want to be in the company of a nice looking woman or to get your phone number and harass you later,” Nakaweezi observes.
“Some men deliberately ram into your car to get an opportunity to ask you out, and it becomes a cat and mouse chase.”
There are women who are meaner to fellow women. They say, ‘If you scratch my car, your man will buy for me a new car. I do not drive sprayed cars.’
Sometimes, whenever women ride with men as a social group (intimate partners; husbands; brothers; friends; work colleagues even subordinates) they are criticised over their choice of route. Why take a turn? Where will you park? Why drive with your high heels? Why drive with no shoes?
“If I am driving my car, then leave me to drive. If I am riding in yours, then tell me what to do,” says Nakaweesi.
PASSING THE TEST
Most driving instructors reveal that generally it takes women longer to pass their driving test than men — the reason men tend to think women are bad drivers. “A woman needs about 20 lessons to pass the test, compared to about 15 for men,” says Saul Mutumba, a driving instructor with AH Driving Services on Colville Street.
Mutumba says, females are also found to be more nervous before their test, which makes people think that women are bad drivers. Mutumba, however, says both men and women suffer an attack of road rage during their test.
“Women are careful to follow the traffic rules, but motorists are impatient.”
One major factor, which often makes women pass as bad drivers is the issue of parking.
One study released last year suggests that women are, in fact, worse at parking than men. Researchers at Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, carried out the test on 65 drivers, who were asked to repeatedly park a car in a sealed off space.
The results showed that women took on average 20 seconds longer to park, but were still not as accurate at fitting the car in the space as men. The study found women are too careful, while men are over confident.
But Dr. Claudia Wolf, who co-wrote the study, stated: “It is just about parking not the triumph of men over women.”
However, there is one key area where statistics show men have a long way to go to prove they are good drivers.
More than 80% of all drunk or drug charges, careless driving convictions, speeding offences and convictions for neglecting traffic signs are brought against men, according to the 2011 Police Crime report.
While there are no statistics of how many women/men drivers were involved in accidents, statistics show that most accident victims are men — probably because there are more men on the road who drive these cars.
For instance about 2,110 men were killed in road accidents in 2011, compared to only 596 females. The Police traffic and road safety boss, Dr. Steven Kasiima says several studies have shown that men display “less cautious behaviour” on the road than their female counterparts.
“Men are more likely to drive at higher speeds. Someone takes risky turns, something they could do accurately,” Kasiima says.
He notes, however, that the number of ladies driving is smaller compared to men. “Careless driving is about personality and inadequate training. It is not gender related,” Kasiima states.
WHY WOMEN DRIVE CAREFULLY
Social scientists and traffic safety experts say male drivers around the world get into bad car crashes compared to women. And this is blamed on the male hormones to be aggressive and love for risk taking.
“Women have a motherly instinct,” says Josiah Muwanga, a counselling psychologist with Life Ministries Kiwatule, “Men feel they are above the rules. Boys grow up with their hormones telling them to adventure. And culture expects them to take more risks.
That pattern is set early but continues through every sort of life stage, including driving,” he explains.
When Muwanga drives with his wife, she buckles her seat belt and holds her breath. “She wants a snail’s pace, yet I do not see the problem,” he laughs.
Isaac Mutebi, an independent driving instructor also says driving is a skill.
“Any person with proper learning and understanding can turn out to be a good driver,” he adds. “The driving skill needs an alert mind, attentiveness on the road, practice and good training — with these anyone, be it a man or woman, will make a good driver.”
Mutebi also notes that indiscipline of some drivers makes it difficult for anyone.
“Some drivers want to overtake or hoot for no reason at all. You tend to panic.”
Dr. Kasiima asks motorists to avoid drinking alcohol and cautions that everyone has a right of way.
While the experts seem to consider aggression a bad thing, many male drivers think it is a show of strength.
“In this city with bodas, bicycles and narrow roads, if you are soft, you spend a whole year on the road,” says Mike, who has been driving for six years