Psychology of our Driving Culture Affects our Safety

Driving is supposed to be fun – it used to be anyway. Obviously the automobile wasn’t designed as a toy but rather as a convenient way to traverse great distances in a short amount of time. It really was convenient. Well…it used to be anyway. Now driving isn’t convenient at all though. It’s no longer fun to drive and it has become a huge source of frustration, fear for some, and leads to much pain, suffering and deaths. There have been more traffic related fatalities around the world, since the first automobile was made, than all the deaths from all global conflicts over the past 3000 years combined.

A machine that was supposed to make our lives easier has turned out to be more lethal than the atom bomb. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic but the drama on our roads is pretty severe.

However, despite all the technology invested into making our roads and vehicles safer, things are getting worse and the impact of each crash to our social economy is mind boggling. For example, each traffic fatality in Canada equals about $15million to the social economy. Although if our roads and our cars are getting safer, why are our roads getting worse? Well the simple answer is our drivers are getting worse. Yes there are more drivers out that but it doesn’t alone cover the disproportionately huge increase in collisions each year. Our drivers are less skilled, less aware, more complacent, and far less respectful (not only of others but also of themselves). One thing is certain…drivers just don’t care about their driving anymore and a driver’s sense of personal accountability is about as rare as a flock of Condors.

There are a myriad of reasons why drivers have become so much worse over the decades but it really comes down to taking personal accountability for our safety on the roads and having the right attitude. Although our driving culture, especially in North America, is absolutely deplorable. But why? Why has our driving behaviour become so appalling? Well lets break it down and consider some examples.

Lets talk about the psychology involved here. Safe driving is directly related to our attitude and a poor attitude relates to poor behaviour. Simple enough but why do drivers have such a bad attitude? We all have a bad day, I get that, but our emotions and how they relate to our driving is another discussion.

Some of the reasons we have such a poor attitude out there is because how our driving culture has been programmed with certain beliefs. Drivers believe they can’t get hurt because of the false sense of security ingrained in us by marketing campaigns. We are told again and again about the safety of All Wheel Drive (AWD) which is totally false. AWD is a performance feature first and foremost. We are also lead to believe that ABS brakes allow us to stop on a dime which is also untrue. It allows drivers to brake in a straight line and allow us to brake and steer at the same time. You aren’t told that it takes longer to stop on snow and gravel with ABS vs conventional brakes. You also aren’t told that it can take 10x longer to stop on ice than on a dry road. Instead you are lead to believe that ABS is the greatest thing since sliced bread. More and more marketing campaigns are hammering us with the marvels of the latest safety feature that will keep us safe. Things like stability control, traction control (also not a safety feature), as well as blind-spot & lane departure warning systems (that actually encourage bad driving habits). These are just tools to aid a driver (if used properly and if their limits are known and kept in mind); they will not allow you to defy the laws of grip or physics.

One of my pet peeves is left lane hogs. I had to ask myself “Why is everyone over there in the left lane when the right lane is totally empty? Why do they just sit there like sheep bumping into each other?” Well again it comes down to psychology. Our driving culture calls that lane the ‘fast’ lane. So if that’s the ‘fast’ lane then people must deduce that the other lanes are ‘slow’ lanes. Nobody wants to be slow. Everyone wants to get to where they’re going quickly, so they all merge over to the ‘fast’ lane and sit there…like sheep…going ever so slowly, while the cars in the empty ‘slow’ lane sails along unimpeded by stop and go traffic at all. That lane is called a ‘passing’ lane! It’s for passing! If you aren’t passing then you are cruising and should be in the right lane as required by law. Well, technically speaking, lanes don’t have names or titles…they have numbers. They are numbered from the centre outward.

Time and time again, police are told by drivers, who are involved in a crash, that their car ‘just took off’ or ‘suddenly went crazy’. Cars don’t suddenly do anything. They don’t suddenly go ‘crazy’. They don’t just take off for ‘no’ reason. Drivers control their vehicles and its drivers who lose control of their vehicle. Remember that Toyota recall for “un-intended acceleration”? It took a while to figure out, but that huge increase in Toyota’s ‘taking off’ was during the winter. Drivers were hitting the gas without realizing it because they were wearing winter boots. Same thing happened with AUDI back in the 1980’s and it took years to recover from the bad press. You may not have ‘intended’ to step on the gas…but you did. The car doesn’t just ‘take off’ all on its own.

It doesn’t help when the media says things like “car loses control and rolls over” or things like “truck went through a red light and hits another car”. Hold on there folks…vehicles don’t lose control…drivers do. Vehicles don’t run red lights and stops signs…drivers fail to bring their vehicle to a stop. The media keeps removing the human from the equation but all this does is reduce our sense of human accountability. When cars are one day fully operated and controlled by computers and fully drive themselves (which has already become a reality and will be very common place in our near future I’m sure), only THEN you can say the car lost control. Until then, drivers are ultimately responsible for what they tell that vehicle to do, or stops telling the car what to do. BREAKING NEWS: TV News Anchors aren’t just reporting problems on the road – they are adding to the problem.

Here’s another news flash: There are no ‘accidents’ on our roads. Well…very few. There are crashes and collisions. In fact 95% of all crashes are fully avoidable and as such, they aren’t accidents at all. An Accident is defined as something unavoidable, unforeseeable and unpredictable. The use of the word ‘accident’ further reduces our sense of personal accountability. Please refer to the following article “Not an Accident”, where I discuss the improper use of the word in more detail. Lets leave the word ‘accident’ for when an asteroid falls from the sky and pulverizes a vehicle. Nope…you wouldn’t have seen that coming and been able to avoid it.

Safe driving is directly related to our behaviour and attitude. Our attitude though is affected by our psychology and our state of mind. In turn, our psychology is programmed by our driving culture, the media and the terms that we use in a rather cyclic way. We all need to start re-programming our driving culture because only then will our attitude and sense of accountability improve, which will in turn lead to safer roads.

Safe driving starts with you…and with me…with all of us.

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One Response to “Psychology of our Driving Culture Affects our Safety”

  1. Wobbly Cat says:

    I agree with your article but I just want to add that there is another answer your question, “Why are our roads getting worse?” There are more cars on the road. And most of them only have 1 occupant — the driver.

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