It was reported by the BBC that there is a ‘’Clear gender gap’ in NI driving test pass rates’. Women are more likely to pass the theory but men are more likely to pass the practical test. Intrigued, I dug a little deeper to try and see what might be going on here.

The theory test is automated and so much less likely to be influenced by cultural biases, however the practical test, which women fail consistently more than men, is administered and marked by a person. We all have bias, much of it unconscious and so the diversity of examiners really matters. I attempted to find out the gender breakdown of Driving Test Examiners in NI by calling the DVA. However, six transfers and phone calls later I was only able to ascertain the numbers for Belfast. The figure was not encouraging.

The fact that 80% of the driving examiners for the Belfast area are men may go some way to explain why men are 8% more likely than women to pass at the Belfast (Balmoral) centre and 12% more likely to pass at the Belfast (Dill Road) centre. It is a well-worn patriarchal trope that women are worse drivers than men. These attitudes permeate through society and can cause perception bias where we expect to have our preconceived notions confirmed. It is therefore possible that more women are failing the practical test because the examiner is already expecting this and may be more vigilant than if they were examining a man’s driving.

The fact that women are better drivers than men also casts suspicion on the lower pass rate. Men are much more likely to cause a death or injury while driving and are four times more likely than women to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

  • Men account for 73% of all worldwide road traffic deaths, three times the rate of women;
  • In Britain men account for 74% road traffic deaths, 70% of serious injuries and 59% slight injuries on the roads;
  • In Britain 95% of convictions for deaths caused by dangerous driving are against men;
  • In the UK, the number of male drivers reported having driven under the influence of drugs, was four times higher than the number of female drivers who admitted to the same offence.


Women are statistically such safe drivers that insurance companies were willing to offer women up to 50% cheaper premiums (this changed in 2012 following a ruling made by the European Court of Justice). It was only commercially viable to do this because the risk of insuring women was so much lower than insuring men.

So…    Women have a higher pass rate in the theory exam than men and are statistically safer drivers than men. The disparity in practical test passes clearly isn’t attributable to women drivers’ skills. Could it be the higher number of male examiners and society’s pervasive bias against women drivers? Perhaps the DVA could look into offering anti-bias training for examiners and explore why so few examiners are women.


By Megan McClure Botha

Bold Women Blogging is a public submission blog. Posts do not necessarily represent the views of WRDA but rather operates as a platform for open discussion to encourage younger women’s participation in social and political issues. To find out more visit this page.