“MY wife had a nasty accident with the car this morning,” says an anxious husband, calling a friend from A&E. “She backed it out of the garage, forgetting that the night before she had backed it in.”

If the mother-in-law joke died with Les Dawson, those about women drivers have yet to be parked. Asked to produce a driving licence, a woman rummages through her handbag, looking baffled. “You know,” says the police officer, “it’s that triangular thing with your face on it.” At which point she smiles and produces a mirror.

There’s a lot more where that came from. Entire websites are dedicated to lampooning women behind the wheel, showing eye-watering levels of political incorrectness. Yet, as a recent test survey shows, it seems that, contrary to decades of being the butt of jokes, women are – wait for it! – better drivers than men.

As part of an experiment at the University of Newcastle to assess reactions in driverless vehicles, a group of 43 men and 33 women were put in charge of a virtual car. The results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, left no room for doubt. Women more swiftly regained control when about to crash, and were quicker to switch lanes to avoid collision. Interestingly, they also had steadier hands when steering. According to Dr Shuo Li, an expert in intelligent transport systems at the university, “Women often do not realise how good they are at driving, but our results found they actually perform slightly better.”

It doesn’t sound like much, but these results could – and should – represent a subtle shift in attitudes. Not among misogynists, who will always maintain a woman’s car is just an extension of her handbag, and the rear view mirror used solely to touch up lipstick. No meteorite can wipe out such dinosaur views. But to hear that female drivers can perform more skilfully suggests we need to recalibrate the hoary old notion that if there’s a one-way street, you won’t have long to wait before a woman drives the wrong way down it.

Such a change is long overdue. Even now, when England’s female football squad dominate the news and women run governments across the world, the world of cars remains one of the last culs-de-sac of sexism.

Hard though it is to believe, some men see it as their life’s mission to help women into a parking bay. They roam the streets looking for damsels trying to squeeze a Fiesta into a motorbike space. Waving their arms like an octopus with palsy, they are self-appointed guardians of the highway.

I had one such uninvited guide on a vertiginous cobbled street in Edinburgh’s Old Town, not long after I’d passed my test. By the end of a barrage of barked instructions on the lines of “hard down on the left” and “find the biting point!”, I was not only in a lather but so far from the pavement I needed a taxi to reach it. My sister, on the other hand, can parallel park in seconds on a congested street to within an inch of the kerb. Without chipping a fingernail too.

Many young women arrive for their first driving lesson with an in-born inferiority complex. Their starting point seems to be anxiety, which might explain why more fail their driving test than men. Perhaps it’s the realisation that they’re in charge of a huge lump of metal that is potentially lethal. Or perhaps it’s because, in the same way that it’s still widely assumed girls will grow into mothers and homemakers, they have never considered the car their natural domain.

It’s different for boys, who are raised in the expectation that they will be yearning to drive almost before they can walk. Hence seeing dads with toddlers on their laps at the wheel, giving them a taste of the future.

Since my husband and one of my closest male friends have never had the slightest urge to captain a car, such gender assumptions are obviously nonsense. My friend took a course of lessons under duress, and went to the test like a miscreant to the scaffold. At a major city roundabout, when asked to turn right he did so, literally. At the sight of oncoming traffic the examiner almost passed out.

The very fact of being male, however, commonly brings with it a sense of motoring entitlement. I witness this on almost every journey, no matter how short. On winding country roads, men – from school age to senescence – cannot abide being behind someone going less fast than they’d like.

Regardless of blind corners or speed limits or the possibility of horses or cyclists ahead, they tailgate until they can roar past. Occasionally you see an overturned car in a field, testimony to impatience in top gear. Meanwhile in busy high streets, such drivers have no compunction about holding up traffic to execute a difficult manoeuvre. They are also the ones who most often lean on their horns, unfazed at the risk of road rage being directed their way.

For such individuals, the car appears to be an expression of identity, a way of signalling who and what they are. Most women I know don’t much mind what they drive. Partly for reasons of income or childcare our choices are often from the unshowy and dull end of the spectrum. The objective is to get from A to B on time, preferably in one piece. Statistically, we’re less likely to have an accident or break the rules.

For too many men, their mission is to get from A to B – even if B is just the Co-op – as if on a Monza racetrack. Overtaking everything in their way, they leave behind a reverberation like that of a passing fighter jet.

This is not to say that all blokes are reckless or aggressive, nor every woman angelic. The difference, I’d suggest, lies in confidence and concentration rather than capability. Men clock up more miles, in part perhaps because the testosterone-fuelled mood on the roads makes then uncongenial to women. Now, however, with scientific proof that we are not just their equals but slightly superior, it’s time to enjoy being in the driving seat.

Time also for payback jokes, such as the wife calling her husband to warn him to be careful because a man had been reported driving the wrong way down the motorway. “Oh it’s not just one,” he replied. “There’s hundreds of them.”