Thursday, February 25, 2010


Marion, Illinois.

February 25, 2010

I’ve been saving this for a “slow news day,” perhaps a walk where nothing worth noting occurs, but now is a good a time as any to throw it out.

As you know, from time to time I observe things on the road that I can’t quite explain, as hard or as long as I might contemplate them. The silverware conundrum, for instance. Kerry the wandering bum said the spoons were from drug users, but that only accounts for some of the spoons, and doesn’t explain the forks and knives. Then there's the single child’s shoe phenomenon, about which I have a theory, but which still sort of puzzles me. And the localized events, like the West Terre Haute Mass Turtle Dieoff and the llinois Baby Garter Snake Dieoff.

Well, here’s something I’ve been observing throughout the walk, from Michigan on down, for nearly 1700 miles. It has to do with the behavior of drivers.

When I am on a four-lane road that has little or no shoulder, requiring me to walk on or close to the edge of the oncoming lanes of traffic, most cars coming toward me in the outside lane will move over into the inside lane or at least go about halfway over. Police and other emergency vehicles invariably do this. But sometimes cars that are coming toward me in the outside lane will not move over even when there is no traffic in the inside lane and nothing else is preventing them from doing so. They just refuse to give up the outside lane, even though I'm in it. Let's call them Refuseniks. But that's not the curious thing. The phenomenon is that at least 80% of the Refuseniks are women. Women of all ages and ethnicities.

I know men tend to drive bigger vehicles than women do, like fat pickup trucks with wide outside mirrors. And men also tend to drive faster than women do, so they’re more likely to be in the inside lane to begin with. But the Refuseniks are persons who are already in the outside lane and coming toward me, not those in the inside lane. And I’ve observed that men tend to move over, and women tend not to move over, no matter what size vehicles they’re driving.

I regard moving over, when it is possible to do so, as an act of courtesy and safety, and I appreciate it. But since the phenomenon of refusing to move over is such a heavily gender-specific one, I cannot automatically conclude that the high percentage of Refuseniks who are women are discourteous or unsafe drivers. However, they are behaving differently, based on their gender.

We're told that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. It's possible that this planetary divide exists behind the wheel, as well. I'm just not sure why, although I have a couple of theories. Perhaps the readers have some ideas.


Anonymous said...

Could be this is a touchy topic. I don't know where everybody else is but here are a few thoughts for what they are worth.
1) What percentage of all drivers are refuseniks ?
2) More and more people tend to consider that it is for the other person to make the effort of making way for them. The pedestrian thinks the cyclist or driver should take heed of him or her and the opposite is also true, each one forgetting that they can be the driver, the cyclist or the pedestrian at different times and the space has to be shared. I even once saw two seniors, one man and one woman, unrelated, getting stuck when getting on the bus, each of them considering that the other person was being impolite by not letting him or her get on the bus first!
3) The woman driving her car is probably wondering why this man is not stepping sideways onto the shoulder for his own safety which is what I would do if I saw a car coming in my direction and if I was on a car lane.
4) If I'm driving and can stay in my lane, I don't like to swerve.
5) These drivers have probably forgotten (maybe just from not encountering this situation often enough) what we learned in driving school at least on this side, that you need to allow at least half a lane to pass a pedestrian or a cyclist safely .
The statistics need fine tuning: are the drivers alone or with passengers getting some of their attention, etc...

Peter Teeuwissen said...

The drivers are alone and with others. Sometimes talking on the cell phone, sometimes not. The only constant is that most of them are women. Your point #4 might be the most useful hint so far. I don't think men care as much whether they swerve or change lanes. The relative rigidity you hint at strikes me as a characteristic of the Refuseniks.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Your #3, about wondering why the man is not stepping aside for his own safety is one I was afraid someone would make. Unfortunately, it is completely beside the point, and smacks of "blaming the messenger," a corollary of the argumentum ad hominem fallacy. Remember that all persons driving in my direction, male and female, might or might not be thinking this. The question isn't whether they're wondering about MY behavior. It's about their own behavior in the face of mine.

Anonymous said...

This could be a touchy subject but discretion rarely brings the most entertainment. If it is a gender issue as you suggest it clearly seems to be then two issues (among others) could be discussed. The issue of entitlement and chivalry should be discussed. If on the other hand, the issue has more to do with risk taking and confidence behind the wheel then the question of how men and women have been socialized in our society needs to be explored. Do men take more chances behind the wheel because they have been raised to be more risk taking or do they feel more adroit and therefore more fluid or flexible in their driving habits. I know as a spectator that an athlete must have ability to take the chance to make an high level play--less able athletes generally take less chances.
These are just some thoughts that come to mind on a Saturday where the weather remains mired in the low 30s. Keep in mind that if socialization plays a part in this equation then the behavior of women drivers on this issue is changing as the way women are socialized has been changing.
Sorry to hear about your mobile home troubles---Art

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Yes, it's a touchy subject. I just want to get some outside perspective on the issue.
I've thought along the same lines as you about some of the points you raise. Does a risk taking mentality mean that switching lanes comes more easily, and that the "rigidity" of sticking to one's lane is because of diffidence? Do women feel less at ease with the machines they are driving, and hence less willing to weave back and forth? Or perhaps men feel more of a sense of "owning" the whole road, and are more comfortable with changing lanes. Then again, maybe the women feel that they "own" that outside lane, and aren't going to give it up just because they might brush back a pedestrian. And of course I'm there only when I have no choice but to be there or go down into a muddy ditch. If there's any kind of walkable shoulder, I'm on it. I'm always ready to roll out of the way if someone gets too close.

Anonymous said...

Pete, you know I would never feel I own a lane! I drive only occasionally, meaning not even once a week so no conclusions should be drawn about women in general from my way of driving. But yes to all of your first three points above as far as I am concerned.
What I meant by #3 earlier, is that you can't always know what is going through people minds and confusion about what other people are doing sometimes leads to strange reactions. I was backparking into a parking space along a sidewalk one day with no one else around, a driver came up from a side street behind me and positioned his car in my blind spot with a view to parking in that same parking space and the driver did nothing until I backed into him. He could see that I had my head turned in the other direction. It turned out it wasn't his car but a company car that he was driving gals around in on a Saturday afternoon and he never went for the horn. While we were doing the paperwork later, his (male) friend asked the driver why he hadn't honked. The guy didn't realize I was parking!
One last story: last month, it had snowed a lot and I was walking up a road which normally has sidewalks but those were covered with snow plus all the extra snow that had been pushed off from the road so I was walking on the pavement. A car came downhill and could see me on the road. It did not slow down or give an indication that it would swerve. I just had enough time to step sideways into knee-deep snow and the driver looked me straight in the eye as he drove past. I walked the remaining distance in the snow.

Anonymous said...

Refuseniks - Aren't they related to the Obliviousniks? You know...the ones that roll through a stop sign to pull out in front of you (when there is nobody behind you for 5 miles) and then go 10 UNDER the speed limit. You know...the same ones that barely (if that) go the speed limit but block traffic in the left lane.
Anyway, good luck and be safe!