Illustration by Trịnh Lập
by An Phương
Among the nine results listed on Google when I asked the question “Should women drive?” in Vietnamese, six of them gave me negative answers, which inspired me to talk with many people about the topic.
This topic has caused controversy among many people recently, especially after several serious car crashes with female drivers occurred.
I’m a woman who can’t drive and I don’t plan to learn how to drive anytime soon as I’m totally fine with riding my own motorbike, taking taxis, or booking a GrabBike when necessary.
However, I have to admit I have a conflict of interest. While I encourage all my female friends to take driving lessons or drive, I judge, albeit in a low-key way, other women that cut me off as they drive a car.
Quang Minh, 32, told me that women are generally not solid drivers of cars. “I’m not saying this because I’m a man. It’s just that many female friends of mine told me so!”
“They quit after three to five months of driving. While some say they become exhausted from parking and carrying out administrative tasks, others say that they usually step on the accelerator when they need to brake the car,” he added.
Văn Anh, 30, a friend of Minh’s, referred to his own experience and added that his girlfriend confirmed the stereotype that women aren’t as competent as men when it comes to driving a car.
“My girlfriend sometimes drives and picks me up from work. We agreed that I shouldn’t talk much and tell funny stories so that she can focus on driving!” said Anh, laughing.
“I know it sounds overly dramatic, but my girlfriend gets distracted quite easily, and it has a significant impact on driving,” he added.
Minh's and Anh’s answers were surprising and amusing to me in the sense that they didn’t come at the topic as harshly as I had imagined traditional Vietnamese guys would.
To be honest, I expected their answers, along with other replies from my male friends, to be more conservative and to say that women are horrible drivers. Instead, they presented me with facts and insights derived from their personal stories.
As I did further research on the topic, I found that the number of traffic accidents caused by women was very small compared to the number caused by male drivers.
According to statistics from the Hà Nội Police, of the more than 1,334 car accidents that occurred in Hà Nội last year, 1,173 cases were caused by men and only 161 by women.
Despite this, I think I understand why female Vietnamese drivers are usually judged more seriously than their foreign counterparts. After all, it’s not that common to see Vietnamese women drive on the streets.
“Take it easy everyone! It’s already 2019 and women drive cars anyway, regardless of anyone’s opinion,” Đức Tuấn, 26, said.
Tuấn explained: “It’s the particular nature of Việt Nam’s chaotic traffic which requires fast thinking that might be a little troublesome to women, especially if they drive on their heels.”
“I’m a man and started driving a car about half a year ago. I must say HCM City’s traffic has given me countless mini heart attacks!” he said, adding that it’s quite easy for drivers to hit one another once in a while.
“I feel for all drivers in general and women in particular,” he added.
Thảo Trang, 28, admitted that she had a car crash once and has since been afraid to travel on the street by herself.
“Partly because I’ve been traumatised by the accident and partly because of the stereotype that women can’t drive well, this got the best of me,” she said.
I agreed with Tuấn, and Trang’s honest answer got me thinking about why I was being sexist even to my own gender.
I don’t speak for everyone, but the media has played a huge role in shaping my belief about terrible female drivers to the point where I’ve come to accept that stereotype as a fact sometimes.
Every year, I read a lot of traffic accidents across many cities and provinces in Việt Nam in the news. Although the majority of car accidents are caused by male drivers, I’m usually drawn to ones that involve women.
“Hey, that happens to me, too!” Trang said. “I noticed that accidents caused by women not only have a shocking headline, but they also get more coverage on newspaper and social media platforms. Repeated exposure to these types of content lures me into thinking that women are really horrible drivers.”
“Take the fatal accident in which a female driver under the influence of alcohol crashed her BMW into multiple motorbikes waiting for traffic lights at Hàng Xanh, one of the busiest intersections in HCM City,” she said.
“This story took Facebook by storm last year as many of my friends commented about the topic,” Trang told me. “There have been more severe accidents caused by male drivers, but they didn’t get that much attention.”
In my opinion, as long as drivers are focused and have the necessary driving skills and traffic knowledge, then whoever drives the car is okay.
It’s important to note that everyone, regardless of their gender, is responsible for prioritising safety on the streets. Everyone stands a chance of being in an accident if a driver engages in risky driving practices such as not using safety belts, speeding, or drunk driving.
Even though I started this article with less than 100 per cent support for the idea, my friends have shed some light on the topic and have clarified the picture. So, the question that I initially asked, “Should women drive?”, should have been “What should drivers keep in mind to avoid unfortunate accidents?” VNS