The jokes about dreadful female drivers can officially take a back seat.

For the first time ever, more women than men have driver’s licenses nationwide. This gender gap reversal means safer roads and less pollution.

That’s according to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, which says that in 2010, 105 million women held licenses, compared with 104 million men. Women are more likely to purchase “smaller, safer and more fuel-efficient vehicles” and “drive less and tend to have a lower fatality rate per distance driven,” said Michael Sivak, the study’s co-author.

The stereotype, however, has been a joke as long as women have been driving.

“It wasn’t true and I don’t think people find it funny anymore,” said David Levinson, a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Minnesota.“Statistics have long shown that the average woman is a slightly safer driver than the average man.”

Last year in Minnesota, male drivers were twice as likely to be involved in a fatal crash, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Using data from the Federal Highway Administration, the new study examined changes in gender demographics of U.S. drivers from 1963 to 2010. Even though more women now have licenses, there are still more men on the road, because men drive more. That gender gap is shrinking: 50 years ago, men made up 76 percent of drivers on the road. Today, they make up 59 percent.

As a stock car driver, Molly Rhoads of Goodhue, Minn., has raced only against men. There are a few of them she’d hate to see on the highway, she said.

“I think both men and women need to pay more attention when driving,” said Rhoads, owner of Molly Rhoads Motorsports. “I’ve seen women drivers doing their hair and makeup while driving, and have seen men reading the newspaper, texting and shaving.” □