Husbands Whose Driving Frightens their Wives

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When I get into the car with my husband, I am often frightened. And I know I am not alone. One of the most frequent complaints I hear from women is that they don’t always feel safe riding in a car driven by their husband. And from men, a big complaint is that their wife doesn’t even trust him to drive a car without giving constant instructions.
What is this about? Do all men drive awfully? Not really. Are all women nervous nellies? Not really. My husband drives just fine. In 42 years of driving a car, he has had just one accident, one in which he did not even dent the bumper of the woman who slammed on her brakes in front of him, mid-intersection, in rush-hour city traffic. That’s it. He’s driven fast, he’s driven closer than I care to drive, he’s changed lanes with less clearance than I like to give myself, and he’s kept himself and his loved ones alive and well.
Per mile driven, men are 1.5 times as likely as women to be involved in a fatal accident. That’s scary. But most of those fatal accidents occur to fairly new drivers; the risk tapers off over time. By age 60, men and women have the same risk of a fatal accident.
And this is only fatal accidents. Per mile driven, women are 1.16 times as likely as men to be have an accident reportable to the police and 1.26 times as likely to have one involving injuries. This difference does not taper off. In every age group over 25, women are the ones more likely to have a non-fatal accident while they are behind the wheel.
One reason I get nervous when my husband drives close behind other cars is that I am one of those women who has been following a bit too closely in heavy 30 mile per hour traffic and ended up part of a multi-car pileup. It was years ago, but it was unforgettable.
When I get nervous now, I close my eyes and pay attention to the sunshine on my shoulder or the music playing in the car. My husband may not take care while driving in the same ways I do, but there is plenty of evidence, years and years of it, that he does take care and that he takes even more care when he has his beloved wife in the car with him.
It matters to me that he loves me so much. It matters to him — and this is another real gender difference — that I respect that he is a man of his word and capable of providing the care he promised to provide. He needs no advice to keep me safe in traffic.
To any woman who feels truly unsafe riding in the car with their life partner, I say swap seats or drive separately. Don’t ride with someone whose driving record, blood alcohol level, or drowsiness poses a real risk. But when you feel safe enough to get in the car, find another way to deal with your situational fears, because disrespect — failure to receive the love you are offered — only distracts the driver.
Statistics cited in this article come from a 1993 study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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  • I wanted to add another perspective as a Mom sitting in the passenger’s seat: the perspective you have as a passenger is completely different and it seems sometimes like the car is too close to the truck next to you or something only because well, you are in the passenger’s seat. When I feel concerned, I have learned to close my eyes or look away. It helps a lot and makes me a better passenger 🙂

  • The fatal ones are the ones you have to worry about… not the ones that aren’t reportable to police. That’s ridiculous!

  • My husband is a deputy sheriff and his job at times requires crazy driving. However, there are many times when I’m his passenger in our own vehicle that I literally feel like my life is in danger. He tailgates, weaves in and out of traffic, speeds and often people honk at his tactics. He blames it on other drivers and has zero patience. When I say something HE gets mad at ME. I take as much as I can and only speak up when truly frightened. Yes, I could request to drive but on long trips I sometimes need a brake. Oh, and when I’M driving, he criticizes my driving constantly. Is there a solution to this? I don’t know but if I end up dead I’ll kill him. 🙂

  • Lisa, let’s assume (in other words, it might not be true, but just for now, we’ll accept that it is) you’re married to a man who loves you and wants dearly to protect you from harm.
    He’s driving in a manner that requires his full attention, and he’s annoyed at other drivers. Now, the woman he loves and aims to protect criticizes the way he’s doing it. How’s he likely to feel in that moment? How is he likely to respond?
    Even though other people’s lives often depend on his ability to drive impatiently on the job, even though he’s never had an accident with the woman he loves in the car, she’s letting him know she has no trust in his driving. How is this likely to feel to him?
    Does this explain why he gets mad when you speak up? It seems to.
    Does it perhaps also explain why he complains when you drive in your way?
    If he does things that look wildly risky to you when he drives, is it possible he’s hypervigilant and noticing things you don’t appear (to him) to notice, things that could put you (and him) in harm’s way? It seems to.
    Does it give you any sense of relief to see how both of his responses could actually be the responses not only of someone with a character flaw or disregard for his wife but also of a man who loves his wife dearly? It does for me, because when I’m frightened, I tend to jump to the conclusion that the person frightening me must not care for my safety or my life.
    Of course, grasping this (that he could just as easily be protecting you out of love as putting you in danger out of disregard) doesn’t solve your problem of anxiety in the car when he’s behind the wheel, and you want him to take the wheel at least some of the time.
    So, what could you try to deal with your anxiety? And how could you involve him in a Third Alternative instead of sitting there in fear or always driving yourself?
    You could try closed eyes and calming music while you’re a passenger. You could suggest a car with a higher safety rating, especially for the passenger compartment. You could turn down opportunities to drive long distances with him. You could take the bus.
    Or you could do as I did and separate the issue of your anxiety from the issue of his competence as a driver.
    That your heart rate goes up and your mouth goes dry when there’s only a few feet between your car and the one in front has little to do with whether you trust his driving track record. You can affirm your trust and ask for protection from this internal danger.
    That you automatically open your closed eyes or look up from whatever you’re doing and stop feeling relaxed when the car suddenly swerves to change lanes has little to do with whether he should or should not change lanes. You can affirm your trust and ask him to let you know when it’s about to happen to avoid a startle reflex that wrecks your good mood.
    That you embarrass easily and feel awful (if you do) when others honk has little to do with whether he’s protecting you from harm. It’s no different from his posting a photo online and getting only two-star ratings on it: even if you agree with the reviewers, you know he’s proud of what he’s done, and you remind him of this. But because you’re in the car with him when his driving is reviewed, you can ask him to protect you from the physical effects of embarrassment when you’re in a congested stretch of highway, even as you assure him you’re proud of his ability to drive without accident.
    Of course, you’ll need different Third Alternatives if your husband’s bumping into those other cars or ending up in a ditch every fourth month or doing all this under the influence. But if you’re with a skilled driver in little danger of getting ticketed because of his job, telling him your anxiety or embarrassment is proof he’s doing it all wrong won’t strengthen your marriage or protect you from harm.
    And I say this as a fellow cringer.

  • Lisa, let’s assume (in other words, it might not be true, but just for now, we’ll accept that it is) you’re married to a man who loves you and wants dearly to protect you from harm.
    He’s driving in a manner that requires his full attention, and he’s annoyed at other drivers. Now, the woman he loves and aims to protect criticizes the way he’s doing it. How’s he likely to feel in that moment? How is he likely to respond?
    Even though other people’s lives often depend on his ability to drive impatiently on the job, even though he’s never had an accident with the woman he loves in the car, she’s letting him know she has no trust in his driving. How is this likely to feel to him?
    Does this explain why he gets mad when you speak up? It seems to.
    Does it perhaps also explain why he complains when you drive in your way?
    If he does things that look wildly risky to you when he drives, is it possible he’s hypervigilant and noticing things you don’t appear (to him) to notice, things that could put you (and him) in harm’s way? It seems to.
    Does it give you any sense of relief to see how both of his responses could actually be the responses not only of someone with a character flaw or disregard for his wife but also of a man who loves his wife dearly? It does for me, because when I’m frightened, I tend to jump to the conclusion that the person frightening me must not care for my safety or my life.
    Of course, grasping this (that he could just as easily be protecting you out of love as putting you in danger out of disregard) doesn’t solve your problem of anxiety in the car when he’s behind the wheel, and you want him to take the wheel at least some of the time.
    So, what could you try to deal with your anxiety? And how could you involve him in a Third Alternative instead of sitting there in fear or always driving yourself?
    You could try closed eyes and calming music while you’re a passenger. You could suggest a car with a higher safety rating, especially for the passenger compartment. You could turn down opportunities to drive long distances with him. You could take the bus.
    Or you could do as I did and separate the issue of your anxiety from the issue of his competence as a driver.
    That your heart rate goes up and your mouth goes dry when there’s only a few feet between your car and the one in front has little to do with whether you trust his driving track record. You can affirm your trust and ask for protection from this internal danger.
    That you automatically open your closed eyes or look up from whatever you’re doing and stop feeling relaxed when the car suddenly swerves to change lanes has little to do with whether he should or should not change lanes. You can affirm your trust and ask him to let you know when it’s about to happen to avoid a startle reflex that wrecks your good mood.
    That you embarrass easily and feel awful (if you do) when others honk has little to do with whether he’s protecting you from harm. It’s no different from his posting a photo online and getting only two-star ratings on it: even if you agree with the reviewers, you know he’s proud of what he’s done, and you remind him of this. But because you’re in the car with him when his driving is reviewed, you can ask him to protect you from the physical effects of embarrassment when you’re in a congested stretch of highway, even as you assure him you’re proud of his ability to drive without accident.
    Of course, you’ll need different Third Alternatives if your husband’s bumping into those other cars or ending up in a ditch every fourth month or doing all this under the influence. But if you’re with a skilled driver in little danger of getting ticketed because of his job, telling him your anxiety or embarrassment is proof he’s doing it all wrong won’t strengthen your marriage or protect you from harm.
    And I say this as a fellow cringer.

  • If your husbands have no regard for their wife’s feelings in any location and refuse to slow down or drive in a way that makes you comfortable then he is a selfish jerk. That is battering and abusive behavior. Don’t excuse the behavior because he is your husband and you love him. That’s ridiculous.

  • I see far too many women of all ages, and unfortunately teens, just going along with their husbands or boyfriends
    When they are driving too fast, following too closely, weaving in and out of traffic. Their husbands are being disrespectful and the women must seem to feel that they must let their husbands drive most, if not all the time. In this day and age, that’s truly a mystery to me.

  • I’m a little concerned as the focus mostly seems to be, just trust your husbands driving because he loves you and that means he will be careful. So, submit and accept that if you die or worse, become permantly injured, it was Gods will, as submission is part of a proper Christian marriage. Man knows more than woman. Maybe the guy should care about our feelings enough to simply slow down, how hard is that? lighten your foot on the gas pedal so your companion can enjoy the ride also.

  • Why should we assume love but not expect our husband to assume respect???
    Both of these are demonstrated through action, NOT assumption. Both parties are responsible to treat the other with love and respect. It is not respectful to criticize and it is not loving to drive recklessly.

  • Because you assume love for your own benefit, to help you see things more clearly. You don’t pretend you are loved. Instead, you try out the possibility that whatever upsetting thing happened came from someone who still loves you dearly. This little trick frees your mind to recall more of what you know and to use capabilities it will not use while you are upset. And quite often, it reveals some truth you can act on to get what you want, including a healthy relationship.
    The problem with expecting your husband to assume respect (which would surely benefit HIM if he tried it) is that every expectation is a premeditated resentment. This is a profound thought that escaped me during the difficult years of my marriage. You should expect your husband to be himself, to use his strengths, to use what he has learned so far. If you expect him to assume respect, then when he doesn’t, you become resentful. And resentment corrodes a marriage very quickly. He is who he is, and you can get what you need much more easily if you accept this and don’t let resentment grow. You are much less creative with that toxin in your system.

  • On Easter Sunday we drove into the city to attend church and brunch with daughter…husband was driving wife was passenger…husband was swerving when wife asked why husband reply was “Yes fixing sunglasses”…when happened again husband reply was “if my driving not good enough you can drive”…or husband will check texts emails maps…wife mentally exhausted For safety of her own life when arrive in city to visit daughter…what is this behavior called towards wife and family…as this has happened time again in car and boat and our adult children refuse to drive with husband at wheel

  • I know that fear! Mental exhaustion seems like a high price to pay for being his passenger. You could tell him that even though you know he somehow successfully drives a car while doing other things, you find your own lack of control as a passenger makes your heart pound and ask him not to do other things while you’re in the car, turning the request from fixing his failing to solving your problem. You could drive, which is what I do most of the time. You could close your eyes and count how many trips he makes each month and how many of them have resulted in the car, the driver, and the passengers arriving safely. You could ask your adult children to drive both of you. You could call an Uber or Lyft driver, especially if you’ll both be drinking at your destination. Or you could schedule nothing together outside your neighborhood.
    But there is nothing at all to be gained by asking anyone else to join you in calling him a bad driver, unless there is any evidence that might convince him he might be one, like mounting tickets or repair bills.

By Patty Newbold

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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