Insurance companies have long noted that male drivers, particularly young ones, are far worse accident risks than women. Now comes the National Safety Council to say that while men do have more accidents, it isn't because they're worse drivers. The problem, it seems, is that men tend to put themselves in riskier situations. "Men are involved in more accidents than are women but men also drive for different reasons than women do and their exposure is much greater. The amount of driving done by members of each sex varies," according to Barbara Carraro, supervisor of motor vehicle statistics for the council. "They drive at different times of day. They drive in different places. Men are driving as a form of occupation, whereas women are driving around the local areas, although more women are getting into the work force. "Women tend not to drive at night as much as men do. When you're driving at night you're at a greater risk."

She said 29.7 million drivers were involved in traffic accidents in 1979. For fatal accidents, "the rate per 1 billion miles driven for males is a little over twice that of the females," she said. Carraro said insurance statistics also don't bear out the blanket statements of men drivers that women are terrors behind the wheel. Women drive more defensively than men, but that is largely because they usually have children in the car. Council figures indicated 20.6 million men were involved in traffic accidents in 1979, compared with 9.1 million women. Its figures also indicated there were an estimated 143.1 million drivers in 1979 -- 76.6 million men and 66.5 million women.