Who Does The Driving?

It’s Halloween time – full of all things fun, scary, and silly – so I’m writing something light.  This is something that doesn’t really matter; but something I’ve been curious about just the same.  Who does the driving – and why?

I am inspired with this question because of a scene I recently witnessed at the SLC airport.  I was on the curb waiting for my pick-up ride when a van pulled up.  The driver was a young (maybe 25), pretty woman – and I assume mother to the three young children in the back.  She got out of the van to greet her husband who appeared to be returning from a business trip.  After a hug and a kiss and few words, she handed him the keys and climbed into the passenger seat of the van.  He climbed into the driver’s side and drove away.

I admit – I was surprised.  Why did he do the driving? She was obviously capable of driving because she had driven to the van to the airport.  I can only assume that the van was deemed “her car” since she probably drove the children around during the day.

I can think of reasons for one partner would drive rather than the other.  Perhaps he/she is a better driver.  Perhaps he/she knows the directions to the destination.  Perhaps he/she has requested to drive.  And since men and women are equally able to drive – I would think the reasons would fall equally to men or women.  But this is not what I see.  I see men driving – most of the time – in family situations.  When I see married couples in my family or at church, I predominately see the man driving the family and he is predominately driving “the van”, which I assume he does not drive to work.

I’m not in a marriage relationship, so I’m not sure why this happens.  This lop-sided driving does not happen for me.  When I date, I always drive my car and he always drives his car and we switch off taking cars to dates and destinations.

I know it doesn’t really matter, but just for fun today (and because I’m curious), I thought I’d ask the question of all of you – who does the driving?




Suzette lives in the Washington DC area and works as a Professional Organizer. She enjoys blogging and serving on the Exponent II Board. Her Mormon roots run deep and she loves her big Mormon family which includes 20 nieces and nephews, 6 sisters, 5 brother in laws, 2 parents - and dozens of cousins. Her favorite things about church are the great Alexandria wards, temple worship, and all things Visiting Teaching.

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48 Responses

  1. KaralynZ says:

    I’m not in a marriage relationship, so I’m not sure why this happens.

    Three kids in the van? You answered your own question. He got back from a trip and was tired. It’s less stressful to drive than to be the one dealing with the “I’m thirsty/I spilled my snack/what does that sign say?/he’s touching me!” CHAOS CIRCUS that comes with having kids in the car.

    If there are two adults in the car one drives, one wrangles kids.

  2. lanwenyi says:

    I voted other. I am married, but my husband drives most of the time when we are together. Why? Because I HATE driving. OTOH, he loves cars, loves driving, etc, so he is happy to drive.

    That said, we’ve never had a situation like the one you described. If I pick him up, he rides in the passenger seat. We’re not going to switch just because he’s with me now. It would take too long to reset the seats anyway.

    • Whitney says:

      That’s pretty much me, too. I don’t really like to drive, so he usually drives. Also, he has a much nicer car, so if we go somewhere together, we usually take his car. I CAN drive his car, but I don’t really like to, you know? It handles differently, everything’s in the wrong place, etc.

      • anita says:

        That’s me too, I hate driving and so am always glad to have my husband chauffeur. I spend all week picking kids up and dropping them off and it’s a pleasure to relinquish the wheel whenever possible.

  3. Jenn says:

    My husband always drives, because I suck at driving (easily distracted, have a lead foot), and he sucks at directions. He’s the driver, I’m the navigator.
    That said, we’re not into typical gender roles. I’m the breadwinner and he’s the stay-at-home parent, carting kids around all day.

  4. BethSmash says:

    I’m single and I drive my own car, and have never switched with a date. The person picking up the other person normally drives. As a side note, there is a person in my family who is a VERY bad passenger. Gasping if someone in front of us brakes. Holding on all white knuckled, just because that person isn’t driving. To this individual it’s about control, so when we go places together, I would rather have THAT person drive, mostly because they get so tense, I start to tense up. It’s not fun.

    • Jimmy says:

      I second Bethsmash. My wife does the majority of the driving, not because of gender roles or driving skill as much as she is just not a good passenger. It’s easier and less stressful for all involved if she drives.

  5. jks says:

    He drives. He prefers it. He is a tense passenger. I prefer not to drive. Even though I am not a “bad” driver and often know the directions better than my husband, I prefer not to multi-task.

  6. Fran says:

    My husband and I have had a bunch of debates over who’s the better driver. I insist that since I was trained in Germany, clearly I’m the better driver. And I really think I am. 😉

    However, on longer trips, I often let him drive. He likes to drive, and I don’t mind being able to sit back a bit and let my mind dangle, or even better, take a nap.

    If I pick him up somewhere, we never switch seats though. Why get up just so he can drive. No way. If I really wanted to drive, I would, and my husband would let me. And as it goes, we’ve jointly agreed actually, that men often are the worse drivers. Every time we pass someone who’s either going ridiculously slow, or doing something else annoying, we’ve noticed that it’s either a young-ish male, or a really old person. It’s almost never women. Sounds about right to me.

    • sarah says:

      My husband always drives because it’s been scientifically proven that men have better spatial awareness than women.

      • Marta says:

        Therefore…women should never drive? Let’s mitigate that to ‘…tend to have better spatial awareness…’. It’s not that black and white.

      • Fran says:

        Men have better spatial awareness? Maybe so (though I doubt it), but that doesn’t mean men are better drivers. Driving well and safely isn’t just about spatial awareness. In fact, I’d say it is very much connected to multi-tasking skills (and isn’t that something we women are supposedly better at?).

      • Kevin says:

        Actually, that’s true, men do have better spatial awareness, and that makes them better drivers. That doesn’t mean women can’t ever drive. It just means that we’re all safer – including them – when they allow their husbands to drive.

      • KEvin says:

        From Wikipedia:

        “Men on average have a standard deviation higher spatial intelligence quotient than women.[1] This domain is one of the few where clear sex differences in cognition appear. “

      • Emmaline says:

        Seriously Kevin?

        Should we say that since there’s a higher incidence of red/green color blindness in men, they’re less adept at perceiving stop lights and therefore shouldn’t drive?

        Ditto to Fran – there’s more to driving than who can judge the distance to the inch more accurately.

  7. Casey says:

    I usually drive… that’s my wife’s preference. She’s better with directions and is our full-time navigator. Dunno who’s the better driver. Objectively, I speed less, but that’s not really why we do what we do; it just kind of is that way. On long trips we split the driving, though still probably 60-40 to me.

  8. April says:

    My husband drives when we’re together because he is a backseat driver who makes me crazy whenever he is in the passenger seat. Moreover, I really dislike driving.

    • namakemono says:

      Exactly the same!

    • Spunky says:

      That is similar to my situation. I also do a lot of the around errands-related driving (here there and everywhere), so on the weekends, when we do family things, sometimes I like a break from driving.

      But mostly, DH is more of a stress-case when it comes to anyone else driving. But when I say that I want to drive, he doesn’t flinch, so its not a die-hard rule.

      What is kind of funny and slightly related is that I have heard that mothers are most often the ones to teach children to drive cars, whereas men (fathers) do not, for whatever reason. (My mother taught me, DH’s mother taught him). So perhaps there is something stress (or even control) related when driving is involved in the family setting? Otherwise, perhaps it is old-school traditional sexist ideology left over from the days of driving wagons?

      • X2 Dora says:

        I was *much* happier when my mother took me out for driving lessons, than when my dad did. Mostly because my father became a stress-ball whenever I stalled the stickshift car. Nowawadys, since my parents are in their 70’s, my mother does all of the driving, and it stresses me out when my dad drives …

  9. FoxyJ says:

    When I was married, my husband would usually drive. Mostly because I didn’t like driving and he did, and I’m better at navigating. We generally divided tasks up like that, based on what people liked to do and how comfortable they were with it. In a picking him up at the airport scenario, however, I probably would have just kept driving since it seems silly to switch off drivers.

  10. Clara says:

    I’m married and I drive. Now, partly that’s because my husband doesn’t have a driver’s license due to health issues. When he did have a driver’s license, I still did the driving, most of the time, because I’m a better driver, and I have a better sense of direction.

    My mom and step-father have two cars, but when they are together he drives, but that’s because she hates driving, and would rather sleep in the car, if she can.

  11. Zillah says:

    Growing up, it always really bothered me that my mom would hand my dad the keys on the few occasions the whole family went somewhere. She drove the van constantly, it was her car, she likes driving, and since to me the person who drove was the person in charge, having my dad drive my mom’s car seemed like she was relinquishing authority. So now I’m hyper-sensitive about it with my husband. He usually drives in cities, since I hate city driving, but I usually drive on road trips, since I love long-distance driving. We take a lot of road trips, so over the course of a year, I think the hours come out to the same. (Unfortunately, he’s a terrible navigator.)
    If I’m giving some of the YW a ride to an activity and he happens to be in the car, I make sure that I’m driving. It’s important to me, especially since some of my YW come from homes with very controlling and abusive fathers.

  12. Diane says:

    I’m single and I don’t have a car, I ride public transportation, but, when I did drive a car, I hated it, perhaps because I learned to drive in Boston, Boston drivers scare the crap out of me. or maybe I was scared of driving because it was my employers car and I had their kids in the car. Its a horrible responsibility. That alone made me hate driving. Double whammy if you get hit.

  13. I’m single, but with all the guys I’ve dated, we each drove our own cars unless circumstances leaned towards it being a better idea for one of us to drive, regardless. I love to drive. My boyfriend loves to drive. We both enjoy it and we have similar driving habits.

    That aside, the airport situation makes me think of the many many times I’ve picked up or dropped off parents or siblings at the airport. Or when I’ve been picked up. At least on one occasion I picked up my parents and they’d just had a stressful day and my mom really wanted to drive to sort of be in control and de-stress. And sometimes when I’ve been tired and am picking someone up at the end of the day and don’t really feel like driving, I’ll ask.

    I think there are many reasons why the situation that you told may have occurred. It might have had to do with dominance and family places, but it might just have been circumstances entirely unrelated to that.

  14. EmiG says:

    Before I got married I’d noticed the trend of the husband driving and swore that my (future) spouse and I would share the driving equitably. And then I married a man who is prone to vertigo and gets *extremely* carsick as a passenger. When we’re both in the car I have very occasionally taken a shift on a long drive so he can take a nap, but as soon as he’s awake he has to drive or he gets a queasiness that literally lasts for days.

  15. lmzbooklvr says:

    My husband drives because he likes to drive; he’s a bit of a gear head. When we go out with other people, we always offer to drive because he hates being a passenger. Also, I fall asleep super easy in the car (even while driving alone – yikes!) so it is great that he likes to drive. Interestingly, when I go out with my girlfriends, I usually volunteer to drive because I like to be in control of when we leave. (In a car with friends I’m usually to talkative to sleep 🙂

  16. katie says:

    I thought I left a comment, but maybe not. J usually drives, especially on long trips. Mostly because a. he is a terrible navigator b. I’m selfish. I sew. I always have handwork going, and i like the chance to work on it. If we pick him up somewhere, I often get out of the car and hand him the keys. My 2 little ones NEVER STOP TALKING. It’s a relief to give him the keys, pull out my phone, and zone out for a few minutes.

  17. My wife and I tend to split the driving pretty evenly. On longer trips, it tends to be her driving – when I’m driving, half her job is to keep me awake. It’s the main reason I take the bus the hour or so trip downtown every day, rather than drive. I’m a very good driver, I just don’t care for it much.

  18. Ziff says:

    I’m a man, and married. I usually drive when my wife and I go somewhere together. If given the option, I would usually rather drive because I would rather do that than wrangle kids. My wife would rather wrangle kids than drive, particularly when we’re going somewhere unfamiliar. Or maybe we’re just unconsciously giving in to gender role expectations.

    The funny thing is that when we were first married, my wife did all the driving because I didn’t have a license. She actually taught me to drive. Fortunately, she’s not a hypercritical teacher or anything. 🙂

  19. bekah says:

    My husband has a smaller, sportier car than mine (because most things are smaller & sportier than a suburban) that he LOVES to drive. I really don’t care either way. So when we go on dates, he usually drives. Plus I have pretty bad night-blindness, so I’d rather not drive after dark.

    I get very sleepy while driving on the highway (even during the day), so on long trips he drives about 80% of the time. And our children tend to direct all questions, complaints, etc. to the person driving the car, which drives me crazy when I’m trying to drive, so I prefer to be the passenger when we go somewhere together as a family because I’d like a break from the incessant talking directed at me. In fact, if we have to meet somewhere and bring both cars (like church, since he got put in the bishopric) he will usually offer to swap cars with me & drive the kids home so I can have a few minutes of peace and quiet.

    However, my dad is the kind of guy who always has to drive. It’s a total control thing, but he doesn’t discriminate between genders at all. He hates being the passenger, but he is also a super aggressive and scary driver, which makes it hard to ride with him. My mom, on the other hand, has been driving like an 80
    year old with poor vision as long as I can remember. They make each other crazy in the car!

  20. Becky says:

    I’m single and do all my own driving. I do love to drive but give up my keys as often as I can because I do get tired of always being behind the wheel (my daily commute is nearly an hour each way).

    When I do marry, I will be very careful about getting plenty of my own time behind the wheel. I’ve known some very independent women who as they aged slowly started driving less and without ever planning it found themselves having lost their driving confidence. One woman I know who raised two kids on her own and drove everywhere now has to get herself a ride to go to the temple because the beltway scares her too much. It’s the piece of advice my grandmother offers most often to me – never stop driving.

  21. Biobrit says:

    I’m married and I do all the driving. It’s mostly because of insurance issues, but I really do feel more comfortable as the driver when I’m in a vehicle. My husband is ok with this and we never really thought this was unusual until one night, as we got out of the car to go into a friends house, a friend remarked that it was clear “who wore the pants” in our relationship because I did all the driving. Now I’m aware that this is a little out of the norm (for Utah). I started realizing that, growing up, my mom NEVER drives when my dad is in the car. So much so, that my dad has no clue what kind of driver my mom is because she has never ever driven him. When speaking to another married friend of mine, she asked how much of the driving I did. I told her I did most (if not all) the driving. She said that since she has been married, her husband has done all the driving. At first it didn’t bother her, but now she realizes that she is losing confidence in her own driving ability. Recently, she has asked him to allow her to drive now and then so she can keep the skill up.

  22. DefyGravity says:

    My husband does all the driving for the simple reason that I’m legally blind and can’t. I feel kind of bad making him do all of it. I don’t know what the dynamics would be if I could see.

    I’ve been thinking about doing a poll like this for a while. Thanks for doing it Suzette!!

  23. alex w. says:

    We split driving almost 50/50, but only because my husband complains when I make him drive any time we go somewhere together. I just don’t care for it. I don’t like our car (because it is so big and not fun to drive), and I don’t like dealing with other drivers, so if I can get him to drive, I’ll do it. I drive more anyway because school is within walking distance for him and I drive to both of my jobs, and I run most of the errands.

    If there were an option to drive a nice, fast little car without any other cars around and at somewhat high speeds, then I would offer to drive more often. 🙂

  24. Emily U says:

    I voted that we share equally. But what I really mean is that we each drive our own cars – we definitely have a his and hers, and rarely drive each others cars. Mostly for practical reasons. One of which is I hate adjusting the seat and mirrors after he’s driven my car. This kids mainly ride in my car, which is often trashed. This works out well for us, because a trashed car does not bother me like it does my husband.

    I will confess that driving has been one of the more contentious subjects of our marriage. Getting a navigation system has helped. And after 13 years I think we have finally learned to just shut up when the other person is driving!

  25. Rachel says:

    Both my husband and I just ride bikes. And have since last August. But, when we did drive, it was somewhat split between us with him driving more than me. I am the safer, more cautious driver, but he likes to drive more, and knows his way around our Los Angeles much better than I.

    One of my sister-in-laws does all of the driving in her family, but that is because she is a) probably a better driver than my brother, and b) my professor brother is constantly working on his novel.

    My parents split driving. On long road trips my mom drives more, and likes to drive more, because she goes faster.

  26. amelia says:

    Mostly my partner and I each drive our own car. But I drive a lot more for the simple reason that my car is much more fuel efficient and therefore more affordable to drive. It’s also more fun, but that doesn’t really have much of anything to do with who drives. But sometimes P drives my car for some reason. Usually because he’s picking me up or dropping me off somewhere and it’s easier to use mine than his.

    I’m glad you asked this, Suzette–it’s fun to see the variety of answers. 🙂

  27. Shelley says:

    I had a roommate at BYU who would drive us to church and offer rides back to our complex to other people. If there was a man riding back with us, she would give him the keys. One guy asked her why, and she responded, “I don’t think it’s part of my womanly duties.” I kid you not.

  28. Angie says:

    I am married, and he does most all the driving. I HATE driving. If I could get away with letting my 12-year old drive I would :).

  29. sartawi says:

    I always drive. It started with me driving because, due to my husband’s line of work, if one of us were to get a ticket, it would do a whole lot less damage to my job than to his. However, I also drive because I get horribly carsick when I am not driving. That said, I wish I could both drive and be in the passenger seat sometimes, because I am much faster at recognizing when any one of the 3 kids is about to puke, and can be ready instantaneously with a barfbag. My husband just isn’t as speedy in that respect, which has been unfortunate on many instances. My husband, other than the puking, is fine with the arrangement. He doesn’t get sick, I never get pulled over, and he can look for all the moose and bighorn sheep that he pleases. I am happy keeping my eyes on the road, and letting him deal with passing snacks, keeping peace, and changing DVDs on the long rides. Besides, our rule is that the driver controls the car temperature, as well as the music. Who would want to give up such power?

  30. Cowgirl says:

    I’m totally amused by the number of women who say they hate driving. I hate driving a car too but I didn’t realize that so many other commenters would say the same thing. I didn’t even get a license until I was almost 19 and moving away from my parents. I bought a house close enough to work that I can walk or ride a bike. My hubby drives the kids to daycare and then heads to work. The only exception was my motorcycle. I never have been a passenger on a mototcycle. That’s my baby.

  31. Kate says:

    We live in Manhattan and my husband has a reverse commute out of and back into the city each day, while I walk to work. He loathes driving, and has taken lately to riding the commuter train out of the city in the morning, picking up his car — he leaves it parked each night at the train station nearest his office — and then driving the remaining ten minutes to work. Needless to say, he is extremely jealous of my easy commute. As a result of his frequent drives, however, he has more familiarity with intra-city driving and generally (though not always) ends up driving us shorter distances within the city, when needed. On longer trips outside of NYC, however, I always drive — I find it relaxing, while he finds it exhausting. All told, I’d say we split driving responsibilities pretty evenly.

  32. Sherah says:

    We split the driving equally. We’re both good drivers, but different. He usually drives at night because my night vision isn’t very good.

  33. spiderlady says:

    When I was married, my husband drove any time he was in the car, because he would scream at me about my driving and try to grab the steering wheel out of my hands. Now that I’m divorced, I drive myself.

  34. TopHat says:

    We no longer have a car, earth-loving-hippie-I-am, but I absolutely love driving. I’m also the one with the better sense of direction- I can’t not know which way “north” is, it’s like it’s screaming in my head all the time. Or it used to. I’v quieted it because it got annoying. And because I drive the kids the most and go to more places, I know the better routes and streets. I’m also the faster one- I am great at driving on trips because we get to our destination faster.

    Right now we only drive with Zipcars (it’s a carshare) and the one of us that makes the reservation has to do the driving. We’re pretty split on who makes the reservation. We are also split on who trails the bike trailer when we bike as a family. Sometimes I pull the kids, sometimes he does. I’m actually better at pulling the kids in some aspects because I do it more often and so my quads are stronger. 🙂

  35. Add me to the list of people who don’t like to drive . I’m a good driver, and I have no problem chauffeuring the kids when I’m alone with them, but when my husband is around, I enjoy the break. He actually likes driving and finds it relaxing, so it’s a win-win.

    He was an awful backseat driver when we got married, but after several conversations in which he had to admit that I WAS a good driver (and a better one when he wasn’t freaking out in the passenger seat), he mellowed out, and it’s no longer an issue in our relationship.

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