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Do you know the famous women who made the motoring industry what it is today?

Motoring has felt like a man’s world for as long as many of us can remember, with men dominating roles across the industry. At the last count, just 0.04% of mechanics in the UK were females, just six women have got behind the wheel for a Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend, and a mere 2% of UK taxi drivers are women.

Woman driving

Motoring has felt like a man’s world for as long as many of us can remember, with men dominating roles across the industry. At the last count, just 0.04% of mechanics in the UK were females, just six women have got behind the wheel for a Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend, and a mere 2% of UK taxi drivers are women.

As such, women have often borne the brunt of negative stereotypes, resulting in female confidence around motoring often being much lower than their male counterparts.

To mark International Women’s Day, we decided to look into the impact this has had on women’s confidence around driving and delve into the history books to find out the true role women have played throughout motor history. 

To start, we asked 1,000 female drivers what they felt the most and least confident doing when it comes to their cars.

The good news is that many women said they were confident performing everyday tasks, such as parking in a public car park or on a street (87%) going to a car garage (82%), and taking a car out for a spin on a test drive (76%). However, there are also common tasks that many women don’t feel confident undertaking.

One of the most notable statistics is that despite 82% of women saying they’re confident buying a car from a garage, just 39% said they’d feel at ease buying a car from a private seller.

When it comes to punctures, 69% of females said they don’t feel comfortable replacing a tyre, while 68% said they’d not feel at ease changing a car light bulb – two of the most important maintenance tasks.

Similarly, less than 4 in 10 (38%) women said they’d be comfortable diagnosing an issue with their car using the car manual, and 40% said they’d feel confident using jump leads to start their vehicle.

How do age and experience affect female drivers?

The good news is that as female drivers gain more experience and grow older, they tend to develop more confidence conducting some routine tasks.

55% of women who have been driving for less than a year said they feel confident going to a car garage, while 93% of women who have been driving for 41 years or more said the same. A similar story applies when talking about parking in a public place and taking a car for a test drive.

But there are some familiar tasks that women become less confident undertaking as the years go by. In some cases, female confidence starts to fade when it comes to changing car lights; 50% of females who have been driving between 1 and 5 years said they are not confident changing car lights, and 53% said they don’t feel confident changing a tyre. However, as the years go on, they get less confident, with those figures hitting 75% and 69% respectively.

Belfast is home to the most confident female drivers

Female confidence differs from place to place. Female drivers in Belfast have come out as the most confident on the roads, with Nottingham’s female drivers named as the second most confident.

The least confident respondents were from Brighton and Newcastle, respectively.

Key female figures who made (and are still making) waves today

If you feel unconfident about driving, buying a car, or maintaining a vehicle, it might comfort you to know that women have historically had a huge influence on the motoring industry.

From creating the first car heater to founding renowned clubs, and making waves in the racing world, women have been pivotal in creating and developing the vehicles we drive today. And we want to celebrate some of them.

Here are some of the women who've made waves in the automotive industry over the last 150 years:

1888, Bertha Benz: Pioneered vehicles as we know them today

With a name like Benz, there’s only one motor group this lady can be associated with. Her husband, Karl, invented the first automobile, but credited Bertha with helping him realise the full potential of his invention. She took her two sons on a 56-mile drive in Karl’s invention on roadless land to showcase its potential. Although there were issues with the invention, this long trip boosted the reputation of both the vehicle and Karl. It also helped to highlight some of the flaws in the vehicle, which resulted in key changes being made. As such, she inadvertently invented the brake linings, due to rapid wear, by asking a cobbler to cover the brakes with a leather lining.

1893, Margaret A Wilcox: Invented the first car heater

Renowned inventor and engineer, Margaret A Wilcox, has a place in the automotive hall of fame forever thanks to designing the first car heater. The invention, which was patented in 1893, directed the warm air from over the engines back into the car in order to warm the driver and passengers.

Back in the late 1800s there were concerns the temperature couldn’t easily be controlled. However, it was Margaret’s invention that went on to be the basis of the heaters used in vehicles today.

1903, Mary Anderson: Created the first windscreen wipers

Can you imagine a world without a window wiper? Believe it or not, they didn’t come as standard from day one. In fact, they were invented years later by Mary Anderson after she visited New York City.

She watched trolley drivers opening their windows to wipe rain from their windscreens and decided there must be a better way to do it, so she designed the first manual lever that was operated from inside the vehicle to wipe the vehicle’s windscreen.

1909, Alice Ramsey: The first person to drive from the East coast to the West coast of the US

An expert driver with an unrivalled passion, she founded, and became the President, of the First Women’s Motoring Club in the US. Building her profile, her enthusiasm resulted in an offer from motoring company, Maxwell to drive from New York to San Francisco. Always one to say yes to a challenge, Alice accepted and became the first woman to navigate the country at a time when roads weren't developed properly. Throughout her drive she had to maintain the car, so managed to fix broken brake pedals and clean spark plugs, amongst other things. 

1914, Florence Lawrence: Devised both turn and brake signals 

The ‘first movie star’, Florence not only had a love for acting, but also a fondness for motoring. Growing increasingly frustrated with the number of accidents that were caused by not knowing if the car in front was just slowing down, or turning left or right, she created two iconic elements; auto-signalling arms which were essentially flags which were operated from inside the vehicle, and a stop sign that flipped up at the back of the car when the brake pedal was depressed.

Both creations led to the development of electric indicators and brake lights that are a legal requirement for all vehicles. 

1915, Wilma K Russey: The first female NYC taxi driver

Women may only make up 2% of taxi drivers today in the UK, but the first woman to be licensed as a New York taxi driver was Wilma K Russey. She became quite the local celebrity when she took on the position. And never one to disappoint or shy away from the limelight, she is said to have received a tip from her first customer due to her leopard skin hat.

1917, Charlotte Bridgewater: Took Mary Anderson’s idea to develop the electronic windscreen wiper

Charlotte Bridgewater built on Mary’s invention and created the electronic wiper. Although they didn’t work well at the time, they are obviously now a legal requirement on our vehicles.

1942, Hedy Lamarr: Invented the radio signalling device

An actress first, Hedy worked alongside George Antheil during the Second World War to develop a non-jamable radio guidance system that allowed ships to guide their torpedoes effectively. Despite not being widely recognised at the time, this technology is the founding of Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth.

1956, Dr Gladys West: Created the basis of the GPS

Mathematician Gladys came to prominence after she was part of an award-winning study that proved the regularity of Pluto's motion relative to Neptune. But it was what she did next that landed her in the automotive history books. 

She began working with satellites and programmed an IBM computer to deliver precise calculations to model the shape of the Earth. Using complex algorithms which accounted for variations in gravitational, tidal, and other forces that distort Earth's shape, her data became the basis for the GPS we still use today.

2005, Michelle Christensen: Became the first female exterior car designer

It wasn’t until 2005 that the industry hired a female exterior designer. Hired by Honda nearly 20 years ago, she was surrounded by cars from a young age and developed an interest, which resulted in her designing a number of prominent cars, including the second-generation Honda NSX.

2008, Danica Sue Patrick: The most successful female racing driver – the first woman to win an Indy race

One of the few high-profile female racing drivers, Danica is the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel racing to date. She began driving professionally in the late 1990s and has taken part in hundreds of races in the NASCAR and IndyCar series.

2014, Mary T Barra: Appointed the first female CEO of a major global automotive company

The first female Chief Executive Officer of a major automotive company, she’s been at the helm of General Motors for more than 7 years and became the Chairman of the board of directors in 2016.

Her appointment as the CEO brought her to the forefront of the industry and as such, she’s now one of the most recognisable names – not only in motoring, but in business, with Forbes and Fortune Magazine including her on their lists of powerful women.

2019, Alexandra Hirschi: Named one of the top 30 most influential women in the Arab world

Also known as Supercar Blondie, Alex is an award-winning Australian presenter and social media personality. Best known for her automobile videos, she has over 45 million followers worldwide, and regularly works with luxury brands to promote their new releases.

Car Insurance expert James Andrews says:  “We know that motoring has historically been seen as a man’s world, with car maintenance tips and products aimed squarely at men, so it’s well past time to look at how women actually feel about different aspects of driving and how this changes depending on age, experience and task.

“Over the past 20 years there have been significant barriers broken by women taking the lead in business, sport and the motoring media. Hopefully this will help open up the motoring world to more and more women on top of making the industry a more diverse and accepting place. As history shows, there was never a good reason for women to be excluded from any aspect of motoring, and as more get involved that can only lead to better cars and safer roads for everyone.”

Did you know you may be able to get cheaper insurance by having a specialist policy aimed at female drivers? Compare car insurance quotes specifically for female drivers.


Sources:

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/apr/26/meet-women-doing-mens-work#:~:text=There%20are%20around%20200%20female,in%20the%20UK%20(0.04%25)

  2. https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.next-female-f1-driver-has-to-be-able-to-take-on-hamilton-or-verstappen.1YGcBrksVffniyqtLyRDh9.html

  3. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/mad-friday-imbalance-between-male-and-female-cab-drivers-a6777566.html

  4. We surveyed 1,007 female drivers in the UK on how comfortable they felt performing various driving and related tasks on a scale of ""very confident"" to ""not confident at all"". All participants held a valid UK driver's license. Data accurate as of February 2021.