For decades, teenage boys were considered to be riskier drivers than teenage girls—and had the insurance premiums to prove it. But several new reports suggest that perception may be changing as girls are more readily taking risks while driving.
In 1996, an underage male was four times as likely as an underage female to get into a fatal car accident with a blood alcohol concentration of .1 percent, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. By 2007, according to the report, that gap had closed, with both male and female underage drunk drivers about 80 times more likely to get into an accident than a sober peer.
Eduardo Romano of the Impaired Driving Center at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation and coauthor of the report, says cultural changes since 1996 are likely to blame for the rise in fatal accidents. Girls likely aren't "better" drunk drivers—they're just driving at more risky times.
"I think it's a reflection that women have become more independent out in the world. In the past, men always drove on dates, now more women are driving themselves. They're driving more often at night," he says. "Night is always a much more risky time to drive."
There's other evidence that teenage girls may not be better drivers than teenage boys. According to a report released last week by AAA, newly licensed females are twice as likely as males to use an electronic device while driving. They also more readily ate or drank, adjusted their car's non-essential controls, and paid attention to their personal hygiene than males while driving.
"Boys have earned a reputation as being more dangerous behind the wheel," says Stephen Wallace, a senior adviser at Students Against Destructive Decisions and director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education at Susquehanna University. "Anecdotally, parents may be paying more attention to boys' driving behavior than girls' driving behavior, so girls might be losing out on some of that [safe driving] training."
Insurance companies, it seems, are increasingly less likely to charge teenage boys significantly more than teenage girls. A 2010 survey by insurance.com, which compiles rate quotes, found that insurance premiums for teenage girls have risen by about $500 over the past several years, while premiums for teenage boys have remained essentially flat. Industry estimates put teenage boys' insurance premiums at about 25 percent more than girls'—20 years ago, boys paid about double.
There is still evidence that boys are riskier customers for insurance companies. According to a 2011 survey by SADD, boys are about four times as likely as girls to drink and drive (though girls are no longer "better" drunk drivers), and are more likely to speed or drive after smoking marijuana.
"I think that in creating a society where we're striving to be gender neutral, we're putting some of the same stress on girls as we have on boys," Wallace says. He says that added stress may be driving more teenage girls to drugs and alcohol—since 2002, drug use among teenage girls has begun to catch up to that of boys. "I think equality is a good thing, but it may come at some cost."