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Who are better drivers…men or women? Student seeks answer with science fair experiment

Ever since Henry Ford first unleashed his mass produced Model Ts out onto the market, we have been arguing over one, basic question: Who is better behind the wheel…men or women? Ethan Stewart, middle schooler and left midfielder for my U14 competitive soccer team may be able to tell you!

Ethan was chosen recently to represent his middle school in the state science fair where he tested that very question. Using the scientific method, he generated a purpose statement, theorized his hypothesis, prepared a study to test his hypothesis on both genders and then finally synthesized his test results to form his final conclusions.

Ethan wanted to determine which gender drives more safely while being distracted. With self-deprecating awareness, Ethan predicted that males would actually prove to be less safe behind the wheel. To test his theory, he came up with the ingenious solution of using MARIO KART on the Wii console video game.

To answer his question, Ethan needed data. He began his study by having both male and female participants drive three Mario Kart trials. In the first trial the driver was on the road themselves with no other characters and with no outside distractions. In the second trial other Mario Kart characters were allowed to drive with the participant to test how they reacted with other drivers. Finally, in the last trial more characters were put on the map and they were given additional outer-game distractions. Drivers in the last trial were distracted by having to reach into a cup, pull out a marble, bring it up to their head and then put the marble back in the cup, drivers would have to receive and respond to a text message, they would have to turn around and say something to someone behind them and finally they would have to receive a phone call and answer while driving their Kart. (No Mario Kart characters were permanently hurt while conducting the study.)

As the participants drove through the trials, Ethan counted the number of times they drove erratically, dangerously or lost control of their vehicle while driving. The result of these trials may surprise you. Male participants, just driving by themselves with no distractions and no other drivers on the map, during the first trial, committed 160 combined instances of dangerous driving. Interestingly, when other characters were added to the course in the second trial the number of erratic driving instances dropped to 118. To Ethan, this showed that when people are driving with no one around them to keep them accountable, they might allow themselves to become distracted or not pay enough attention. Finally, in the third trial when the outside distractions (listed above) were added, dangerous instances spiked and Ethan counted 213 instances among male participants.

When the female drivers were studied, they had 144 combined instances of dangerous driving during their first trial, a little less than their male counterparts. When additional characters were added in the second trial, dangerous driving dropped to 129 instances. This followed the same pattern we saw in males; people are better drivers when there are other vehicles sharing the road with them. Finally in the third trial, with all those outside distractions, the number of combined dangerous driving instances peaked at 219, just a little more than men.

Overall and anti-climatically, the number of dangerous instances between the men who participated and the women who participated turned out to actually be pretty much equal – 491 combined total for the men, 492 combined total for the women.

While the number of instances of erratic or dangerous driving were about the same, Ethan did note in his study that men on average took less time to finish each course than their women counterparts. He did not speculate whether he thought driving faster was a good or bad trait; the jury is still out on that one.