National Post

Tuesday, January 26, 1999

Men more at ease with their navigational shortcomings

Michael Precker
Knight Ridder

If you can find your way to an apology, ladies, we're waiting.

A company that makes navigational systems for cars has struck a blow for men so surprising that even they didn't believe it: Male drivers who get lost are more likely to ask for directions than women.

This is not a misprint. This is science -- hard, cold statistics that finally refute one of the favourite XY-bashing stereotypes: the notion that testosterone makes men incapable of stopping a moving automobile and asking for help.

"It's so counter-intuitive," says Ajay Prasad, manager of consumer research for Navigation Technologies in Rosemont, Ill. "Even some men here said, 'I don't buy this. I would never ask for directions.'

"So my first instinct was to go back to the research company and say, 'Are you sure?' "

Market Facts Inc., hired by Navigation Technologies to conduct the survey, was sure. Its U.S.-wide telephone survey of 503 men and 502 women between the ages of 18 and 65 had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. Here are some of the findings:

- When they get lost, 79.5% of men stop to consult a map or ask directions. Only 60.9% of women do that.

- Women, on the other hand, are more likely just to keep driving to find their way -- 37.5% versus 20.5% of men.

- Women did report "fewer incidents of difficulty or confusion in locating a specific destination," a fancy scientific way of saying they "don't get lost as much." The figure for women was 2.1 incidents in the previous month; men, 3.0 incidents.

- By 36.6% to 31.9%, women also are more likely than men to make a phone call to find their destination.

But never mind those last two. Let's gloat about the decisive victory -- 18.6 percentage points, to be precise -- in seeking help.

"I think it's good news for men, and I'm certainly pleased," says Mitch Fuqua, national spokesman for the American Automobile Association. "I'm going to show this to my wife. She always accuses me of not asking for directions."

Fuqua says AAA does not keep gender-specific statistics on who gets its direction-filled maps and tour books.

Nonetheless, he concludes, "I think men have come a long way in the last couple of years. We're definitely evolving into a group of people who aren't afraid to ask for directions."

Lesley Hazleton, who writes books and columns on the automotive industry, isn't convinced.

"They're cheating," says Hazleton, whose work ranges from hard-nosed reporting to light-hearted memoirs about her love of cars. "Consulting a map is totally different from asking directions. How can you put them together?"

A map, Hazleton points out, "is a wonderful, fascinating thing. It's like solving a puzzle or a code. But asking directions means actually admitting that you're lost. The survey runs counter to what every single one of us knows."

Even if men are asking directions, she adds, "It would be interesting to see who they're stopping to ask. Maybe they just want to talk to good-looking women. And I can imagine a woman not asking directions if it's night in a strange city and she's concerned about security."

Prasad acknowledges that the survey does not account for the possibility that male drivers are more inclined to ask directions because their wives are sitting next to them saying, "Stop being such a stubborn bonehead and ask directions!"

"No one asked if the passenger coaxed the driver, and some of that could be happening," he says. "But even if you leave some room for that, the gap [between genders] is still huge."

Prasad says Navigational Technologies commissioned the study as part of the company's "massive initiative to understand the navigational habits of people and try to see how true all these myths are."

Navigational Technologies makes devices that combine satellite technology to pinpoint a driver's location with a database of street maps. The navigation systems are available in some pricey new cars and can be bought for older cars.

The survey makes Prasad optimistic about his product's future.

Besides the fact that we evolved men are in touch with our directional feelings, he says, "these are for people who really like gadgets. And that's definitely a male thing."

Copyright Southam Inc.