Is Doing The Driving On Family Road Trips Still The Domain Of Dads?

We just arrived home after seven and a half hours on the road having spent this long weekend exactly 500kms down the coast from our home (according to Google Maps that is). Google Maps told me this morning it was going to be a five and a half hour drive, but at “six in the ‘morn” without any traffic, that was probably right. Of course, even though I love how Google Maps updates traffic information in real time as you drive, it doesn’t take into account the thousands of pit stops you have to take on a hot day when your four year old kid has a bit to drink but can’t hold it in.

Like so many of our family road trips, I did all the driving back home today, but on the way down south on Friday night my wife took the wheel for her typical 15 minute stretch while I had a late evening coffee to keep me pepped for the rest of the drive. She tires easier than I do, but if ever my eyes are getting heavy, a coffee and at least a quarter of an hour break will freshen me up. I’m never gung ho about getting back in the driver’s seat. It’s not like I ever think “it’s my car” or “I’m the head of this family, I need to be the one who drives us safely to our destination.” It’s not like that at all. My wife is more than capable to drive long distances and has done so many times on her own, with just the kids, two hours up the coast to visit her sister, or even when I’m in the car on one of these family road trips.

But today, it got me thinking. Actually, I’ve had this thought before, and often when we’ve been on one of these long road trips, but I have never remembered to write about it or even save a draft so I could write at a later date. Today, as soon as this topic popped into my head once again, I got out a pen and wrote “DRIVE” on the back on my hand as a reminder.

When my wife saw DRIVE on the back of my hand I said it was so I remembered what I was supposed to be doing.
When my wife saw DRIVE on the back of my hand I said it was so I remembered what I was supposed to be doing.

As the title of this post asks, Is Doing The Driving On Family Road Trips Still The Domain Of Dads? For the most part, in our family, it is. And as I looked around into the cars besides us as we drove home today, whether there was a family consisting of a man (let’s assume he’s the father), a woman (let’s assume she’s the mother), and kids in the back, or if there was just a couple made up of a guy and a girl, the male of the species was in the driver’s seat for the vast majorityof samples I spied.

Although I am 100% in favour and supportive of same-sex families, single parent families, or whatever modern society wants to throw into the welcoming mix, from here on in, and just for the purpose of this post being about gender roles, I’m going to use the term “traditional family.” Please forgive me if it offends. It’s NOT my intent. And if you are member of a same-sex relationship family, keep reading and then answer the question I’m asking at the bottom of this post.

My own dad was the driver on our family trips 100% of the time. The main reason was, my mother never held a driver’s licence. She had her learner’s permit twice and and got very close to having a full driver’s permit at one stage, but she let her learner’s permit expire and that never came into fruition. Because we were a one driver family, we were also a one car family. My brother also is a member of a one car family now, but his wife holds a driver’s licence which makes it different from our family dynamic as kids. Strangely enough, before they had kids, they were a two car family, but as soon as the kids came along they traded in their older cars for one newer four door car to hold the baby seats.

As my brother works in the city, public transport is his most convenient and cost effective option for getting there, and as his wife does the school runs and errands throughout the week days, she takes the car. They always do everything on the weekend as a family unit, so one car is all they need. But when it comes to family roads trips, even though my sister in law is the main driver of their family car, clocking up more hours and kilometres behind the wheel each week, my brother is the driver. Even on shorter trips on the weekend, be it to the shops, to soccer, or family outings, when they rock up in their car, my brother is always behind the wheel.

My brother in law, my wife’s sister’s husband is also the main driver when their family hits the road. They are a two car family with my brother in law driving to his work during the week in one car, and my sister in law doing to traditional stay-at-home parent duties in the main family car. For them, only one car can truly be the family car now that they are a family with four children. For them, one car is generally a two door utility vehicle, or “ute”, otherwise known as a pick-up truck as my brother in law uses this for when he’s being a weekend handy man, and their other car from now on will have to be a 7-seater or people mover now that they have a large family. But whenever the family goes on outings, my brother in law is the designated driver.

I started thinking about traditional family units as depicted on television and in movies and who is the driver in those families. When you think of movies about family road trips, it’s pretty hard to go past those National Lampoon’s Vacation film series. Whether you take a snapshot of the Griswolds driving in the original 1983 classic National Lampoon’s Vacation, the 1985 sequel National Lampoon’s European Vacation, or fast forward to this year’s extremely long overdue (taking into consideration Christmas Vacation wasn’t a road trip film) follow-up, simply titled Vacation, you’ll see Clark Griswold in the first two and his son Rusty Griswold in the driver’s seat.

National Lampoon's Vacation 1983
Clark Griswold at the wheel in National Lampoon’s Vacation 1983
Clark Griswol once again driving in National Lampoon's European Vacation 1985
Clark Griswold once again driving in National Lampoon’s European Vacation 1985
Rusty Griswold has taken over the driver's role in Vacation 2015
Rusty Griswold has taken over the driver’s role in Vacation 2015

Although the National Lampoon’s movies were all about spoofing family life itself, the movies and the Griswolds themselves have often been spoofed by The Simpsons. And whether you’re thinking about their big screen debut with its road trip to Alaska, or the many and varied road trips Our Favourite Family have taken over the years on the television series, you will more often that not find Homer Simpson at the wheel. The exception to this is when Homer is drunk, when he loses his licence, when he’s drunk, or when he’s incapacitated in many and various ways. Or drunk. Did I mention he gets drunk?

The Simpsons are going to... Alaska
The Simpsons are going to… Alaska

Whether in her monstrous 4WD or swerving around the streets in the opening title sequence, Marge is quite adept at driving and often is more skilful than the average driver. And yet Homer is the one who does all the driving. And, for the most part, like many things that happen on The Simpsons, I’m sure this is reflective of the majority of traditional family units across America, Australia, and the rest of the world.

I have heard that in some cultures, mostly the ones that I’m not afraid to call out as being “backwards” if they’re still making women second class citizens in their family, will still have the mother not only only be a passenger in the family vehicle, but if there is a first born son who is legally allowed to sit up front, he’ll take the front passenger seat over his mother, sitting next to the man whose footsteps he’ll walk in, and whose archaic traditions he’ll probably still follow.

But that’s not what this post is about. This is about those families where the mother and the father are both licensed drivers, but the dad always seems to be the driver. Why is this still the case?

In a time where dads are taking over more of the roles that were once the domain of the mother alone, where the fathers are doing more of the childrearing, the domestic chores including grocery shopping and cooking of the family meals, why is this particular role still falling for the most part on the man of the house?

Theories I have though of include a throw back to those days of chivalry when it was the man’s honour to pick up and take his woman wherever her heart desires. Possibly somewhere on his new surrey. Maybe even one with a fringe on top. Maybe this is a role still seen as one that must fall on the “protector” of the family, and with the men generally being seen as the physically stronger member of the parenting team, that’s got to be his job. Maybe it’s a case of more men having jobs with company vehicles, and as my dad always claimed, only the employee was allowed to use it. (Sidebar on that for a second; currently I have my fourth company car, and maybe insurance laws or rules have changed, but the usage terms in the agreement with all three companies I have worked for who have given me a company vehicle, my partner has been able to drive it and is fully covered).

Another theory I have is that men (I’m including me) still like to argue that we are the better drivers. Studies conducted in many different countries, and over a great period of time have shown differing results, but most have shown that women are less likely to be at fault in an accident. Seeing that these statistics are often arrived at using real data from insurance companies rather than individuals answering survey questions where they can stretch the truth, the statistics are more believable. Even though this is the case, in other surveys conducted at the same time, but asking for opinions of individuals rather than wholesale facts, both men and women believe that men are the safer drivers with many women suggesting that their own lack of confidence behind the wheel is the contributing factor to them having that opinion of other female drivers.

I like driving. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a speeder and haven’t been for years. In fact, the aggressive style of driving falls squarely on my wife, and also one of my previous girlfriends, both of whom have scorned me for my restrained driving style. I’m happy to sit on the speed limit, and when travelling on highways and motorways, I stick my cruise control on to keep the accelerator locked in with the speed limit. I seriously can’t afford to lose my licence seeing that I need one to fulfil my position at work. When I’m behind the wheel, I don’t see myself in the cockpit of a Formula 1, V8 Super Car or Nascar racer. Nope. That’s not why I like to drive.

And it’s not like I have to be in control. I’d be happy to sit back and look at the scenery, catch up on discussions on Facebook or take my turn Words With Friends. Well, when I say I don’t have to be in control, I do like to set the air conditioner to how I like it, but I’m happy to listen to whatever CD my wife brings, even if it’s not my cup of tea. And that, my friends is where a certain irony crept in on this latest trip. As soon as we were entering those remote country areas where your choice of radio station is listening to what sounds like aliens trying to send signals to Earth, or feedback and static that rival any Jimi Hendrix live gig, we listened to my wife’s Meghan Trainor album without complaints from me. But as soon as my Incubus album kicked it up a few notches and it went from being poppy to being rocky in my car, she was all like “turn it down… a bit more…”And even though I was driving, I complied.

So, I’ll leave you with this song, which ties in with me writing DRIVE on my hand. And as always, after this clip from Incubus, I have a question to ask that I hope you’ll feel like answering for me.

Who does the driving when your family goes on trips? Is this all trips, or just the long road trips? If you are in a same-sex relationship, who does the driving in your family? Is there one person who seems to do more of the driving than the other?


2 thoughts on “Is Doing The Driving On Family Road Trips Still The Domain Of Dads?

  1. Whenever we go on any trips my wife does all the driving, because I am a non driver we only have the one car. I know it is unusual for a man not to drive at all and the woman doing all the driving, but my wife likes driving. So even if I did drive, she would still be the one driving on trips.

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