Image: Man sitting in a convertible © Image Source, Getty Images

Have you ever wondered which sex dominates behind the wheel? Race car driver Jimmie Johnson might be the king of driving on closed tracks, but car insurance rates prove that women rule on the open road.

At least they do in the eyes of car insurance companies.

Safety counts

A distinct gender gap in car insurance rates has women paying significantly less for car insurance than men do. An individual's amount still depends on the same factors: credit history, age, traffic tickets and so on. But if a man and a woman living in the same city with the same profile shop for car insurance, the woman would likely receive a lower auto insurance quote.

Why the disparity?

Statistics show that women drive more cautiously and less aggressively than men do. They also receive fewer traffic tickets and use vehicle-safety systems like seat belts more often than men do.

That's why car insurance companies charge men more than they charge women. Since men are a higher risk, insurers figure they are more likely to pay a claim on a man's policy.

Risk and car insurance

Just how reckless are men behind the wheel?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 70% of the people involved in fatal car crashes in 2009 were men.

Despite the fact that men crash, speed and receive tickets more often than women do, Russ Rader of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that traffic infractions involving women are on the rise. "It's not like women don't ever get into accidents or take chances behind the wheel," he says.

In fact, the number of fatal accidents involving female drivers has risen by about 10% in the past 35 years, "while the number of male drivers involved in fatal crashes has dropped by 32%," says Rader.

"Women are getting into more crashes than they used to, but research shows that's only because they're driving more miles. Statistically, men are still more likely to get into crashes, and drive aggressively like speeding and running red lights. They're also more likely to drink and drive," he says.

Breaking down the numbers

Based on numbers crunched by the IIHS, it's not surprising that men pay more.

The IIHS says:

  • There are more men on the road than women. About 93% of all men age 16 and older drive versus 85% of all women age 16 and older.
  • Men are behind the wheel of fatal crashes about 2.5 times more often than women are.
  • Men crash 12% more on weekends than women do.
  • Men are behind the wheel in 24% more fatal nighttime crashes than women do.
  • Men are involved in rear-end accidents 30% more often than women are.
  • Men who do not have a valid license are involved in fatal crashes 50% more often than women.
  • Women wear seatbelts 27% more often than men.
  • DUIs issued to men outnumber those issued to women by a ratio of more than 2-to-1.
  • 25% of men involved in a fatal crash had been previously issued a speeding ticket, while only 17% of women in fatal crashes had been stopped for speeding.
  • Men are twice as likely to drive with a suspended license as women are.

According to a study by Quality Planning, a San Francisco company that validates policyholder information for auto insurers, male drivers are also cited for reckless driving 3.4 times more than women are.

But despite all the numbers, is it fair to lump all men into one category? It doesn't matter -- car insurance companies set rates based on the averages.

What's a guy to do?

If men want to get the same car insurance rates as women, they'll have to change their driving.

Click here to become a fan of MSN Money on Facebook

Scott Marshall, a driving instructor and the director of training at Young Drivers of Canada, says men should stop tailgating and speeding. These "are some of the easiest things to change, and ways to be safer on the road."

Marshall says guys should also follow women's lead and buckle their seat belts.

"Not only will that reduce the chance of a fatality, in many states, it's a law which, if broken, could result in a ticket." Tickets blemish your driving record and can keep you from being eligible for "preferred" or good-driver discounts.

There is one bright spot for men. As we age, the gender rate gap starts to shrink. IIHS statistics show that at ages 55 to 64, men and women are involved in the same number of fatal crashes. In fact, Rader says after age 65, women are behind the wheel of fatal auto incidents about 20% more than men are.