Tailgating, speeding, road rage, and other reckless behaviors are very dangerous on the road — and most people know about these dangers. Careless driving can cause many innocent people to experience serious injuries and even death, so why do people engage in these behaviors?
With every new law that goes into place that’s meant to crackdown on bad driver behavior, I always wonder why seemingly competent, and allegedly sane, people need so much persuasion to drive safely.
Having so many questions, and being fascinated with human psychology since I took a few classes on it in school, I had to dig around and see if any official research has been done on the subject — and of course there has. There’s actually a branch of psychology called traffic psychology. This special area studies the factors that impact our behavior while behind the wheel.
Research from this area of study shows that bad driving is actually something that happens due to conditioning more often than the driver just being careless or genetically pre-determined to be a problematic motorist.
It really is fascinating, and I never really thought of it that way — years of environmental and human factors turning us into bad drivers as opposed to a predisposition towards being bad driving. This gives me hope that since it’s not built into our brain, we can undo the conditioning to become safe on the roads again.
Here’s some of the things going on while we’re behind the wheel:
Aggressive drivers don’t always know they’re being aggressive
The guy behind you that’s tailgating you, swerving so his lights catch your mirrors, and just being a pushy jerk — it probably has nothing to do with you, he’d probably be doing it to anyone that’s in his path.
People Think They’re Being Safer Than They Are
“Sure go ahead and speed, no one is around right?” — that’s called an illusion of control. We believe that we can control uncontrollable things, but there’s no controlling a deer running into our paths, a tire blowing out, or another car pulling out from a blind drive.
Other Drivers are People too, but We Don’t Feel That Way
Very often, especially in road rage incidents, drivers forget that the person they’re targeting is a person.
As a personal side note, I always try to remind myself that person who just ran the stop sign might be on the way to the hospital to watch his child be born and needs to get where he’s going faster than I do — I mean, probably not, but you never know, so just let it go when someone your sharing the road with does something annoying.
People Vastly Overestimate Their Abilities
Sure, you’re probably pretty capable when you’re driving, but then you start doing other things because you’ve done so well on not wrecking yet. The way I think of it is someone layering a juggling trick — they start with one ball, then two, then three, and so on until there’s too many too juggle or the handler gets distracted for half a second and all the balls fall (could this be what they mean by “drop the ball”?).
You do just fine driving, so then you add in talking on your phone, throw in a cigarette after that, top it with a cup of coffee, and why not a muffin while you’re at it? All of the sudden that squirrel that jumped out and startled you made you end up on the other side of the road, upside down, because steering with your knee wasn’t enough to make the simple maneuver around your new furry enemy.
When it’s all said and done, it seems like a lot of the problem is that things that should be on the forefront of our minds have become subconscious. It’s either going to take the implement of fully self-driven cars or a total change in attitude about driving to fix these issues.
Can you think of a more imminent solution?