Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Psychology Behind Aggressive Driving – Why It Needs To Be Reigned In

Following the UK government's introduction of on-the-spot fines for unsafe driving the Guardian released an article that examines why drivers behave in a certain way whilst driving.

Aggressive Driving

Interestingly young drivers top the list with failure to realise when they're driving aggressively. Tailgating or blocking other road-users is deemed to be a bullying tactic - and certainly one many of us wouldn't do in a face-to-face situation.

Younger motorists are thought to be some of the worst offenders for this and a psychological study has revealed that those who score high on personality measures such as sensation-seeking and impulsiveness are more inclined to drive aggressively.

The article mentions a number of other aspects but the three that probably stand out the most in terms of aggression behind the wheel were the following:

1. We behave more aggressively to those of a "perceived" lower status

Sadly this is true - decades of research actually shows that behaviour such as tailgating, prolonged honking and other bullying tactics stem from the fact that the aggressor believes that they are the more important driver.

It's believed that drivers make this assumption based on the vehicles involved - i.e. size or newness in many instances - larger cars over smaller ones and newer vehicles over older ones. These assumptions are made with no knowledge of the person driving the car.

2. We simply forget that other motorists are people as well

Anger and road rage are not uncommon when driving and near misses and cutting other motorists up tend to be the main reasons behind it.

To put this into perspective - the Guardian rightly says that if you accidently bump into someone on the street or in the supermarket - you're usually inclined to apologise and move on. In spite of this, when you get into the car you're more inclined to dehumanise other motorists and pedestrians and react to them in a completely different way as a result.

3. Blaming Others & Overestimating Ourselves

Many drivers blame others for dangerous driving without thinking about the situation in question  – attributing the mistakes of other motorists to their personality or driving ability, while excusing our own errors on the road.

A prime example of this is what happened to me recently - I was in a situation where I was cut up by a white van on a motorway, however, he was forced to by a lorry merging into the middle lane trying to overtake another vehicle. To get angry at the van driver would have been pointless – it wasn't really his fault at all.

Unfortunately this leads to many of us overestimating our driving ability – according to official statistics 80 – 90% of motorists believe that they are an above-average driver. Sadly – the more skilled we believe we are the less likely this is to be true…

This article is really just a little food for thought but certainly worth considering for the next time someone cuts you up or you’re tailgating a slower, older vehicle in front. Besides – do you really want an on-the-spot fine that the government have recently introduced for this type of behaviour?