Principles of Driving Psychology  

Dr. Leon James
1997; updated 2012



What's Going on in Traffic

Psychologists study what people do in different social situations and then develop explanations for their actions and reactions. In this sense we all have to be like psychologists, even if one never took a psychology degree program, since our ability to carry out the daily tasks in our lives depends on our understanding of ourselves and others. For example, suppose you agreed to meet a friend for lunch in a designated restaurant. You have been waiting for half an hour at the table and your friend has not shown up. You have to make a decision. You see several options. Eat lunch by yourself and go back to work. Use the phone and try to contact the person. Leave and go look for your friend. Continue to wait and not order lunch.

As you review these options, you also have various reactions. Perhaps you are irritated, or worried. Thoughts occur that possibly the person had an accident. Or maybe you find yourself criticizing your friend and recalling a past pattern of unreliability. You might question this person's character. Finally your friend shows up. You are relieved, but still peeved.

Decisions, options, reactions, and explanations constantly go on in our mind moment by moment as we cope with life's changing events. Psychologists call this activity making attributions. Let's apply this idea to traffic psychology. While we drive, we constantly have to figure out what's going on, what other drivers are doing. Some events are easy to recognize because they are accompanied by official signs like turn signals. Other types of communication signals may not be official, but they are traditional, like motorists waving to you after you made an opening in your lane to let them in.

But there are many other cues we need to pick up in traffic which are incidental rather than communicative. For example as you're coming down a hill you see a car backing out of the driveway. You have to make a quick decision: do you proceed or do you stop? Your decision depends on your "causal attributions," or the explanation that you have for that situation. For instance:

That woman better wait for me to pass. I have the right of way now. She looks like she's coming out fast, she might not stop for me. I'll speed up so she knows I'm not giving her room to back out now. She knows she should wait for me. There, she waited. Good.

If you figure that the driver of the other car is cautious, and you expect to have been noticed, then you decide to proceed. If you think the driver has not seen you, you might slow down, honk, or stop. All sorts of situational cues can influence your explanation, expectation, and decision:

* Is the driver male or female, old or young, well dressed or not?

* Is the car new or old, fancy or average?

* Is the visibility good or obstructed?

* Is the car proceeding slowly with hesitation or is it coming out fast?

These situational cues combine with your own attitudes and habits to produce your decision or action. Your driving decisions and actions express your personality style and character. How you act and react, how you think and feel, are the automatic result of what you see, what you believe, and what you have learned to do by habit.

You can consciously modify your driving personality by controlling what you look at in traffic, what you believe about other motorists, and the new driving habits you practice. Self-witnessing efforts reveal to you what you look at, what you focus on, what kind of thought-habits you have acquired, what quality of emotions surround you in traffic. The emotion is the result of your habits of thought and feeling as a driver. You are helpless in changing your emotions by an act of will or resolution. But you can use systematic self-modification techniques to suppress the habits of thought and feeling you observe in yourself. You can substitute for them new and healthier mental patterns and thereby permanently improve the quality your traffic life.

Why Did You Do That?

How do you control what you believe about other drivers? One technique is to examine your driving attributions. Consider, for instance, a slow moving car in your lane. Why is the driver going so slow? You can attribute the cause to several elements:

(1) the driver's disposition. You might think that the person is inconsiderate, incompetent, stupid, dumb.

(2) the driver's appearance, such as race, gender, age, or ethnic background.

(3) the traffic situation. You might think that the car is old or malfunctioning, or perhaps there is a child in the car, or someone is sick.

The first two causes are called "dispositional attributions" while the third is known as "situational attributions." Social psychologists have found under experimental conditions, that when people make a dispositional attribution , they react with negative emotions. On the other hand, when people make a situational attribution, they feel more tolerant or even positive.

Getting back to the slow moving driver in your lane. You have a choice whether you are going to make a dispositional or a situational attribution. You know that you are making a dispositional attribution when you witness yourself thinking derogatory terms about the slow driver and his or her gender and race. The result is that your mind is getting polluted with negative emotions. You are opening a line of communication with hellish feelings. You are victimizing yourself. But you a have a free choice. You can switch attributions !

You can attribute the cause of the car's slowness to something in the situation -- there is a malfunction, an illness, special cargo, and so on. Now you free yourself to experience healthier emotions --

* compassion ("I better be careful not to threaten them.")

* patience ("This won't last very long.")

* prudence ("Let me see if I can pass this car.")

* tolerance ("Everybody's got the right to be here."), and so on.

Drivers' Self-Serving Bias

Traffic witnesses discovered that there is a self-serving bias in the way they make attributions on the road. For example, when other drivers cut them off in a lane switching incident, they felt outraged when making a dispositional attribution: "How annoying. They're being inconsiderate, rude, aggressive." But when it is our turn to cut someone off, we make a situational attribution: "I had to do that because I have to take the cutoff ramp soon," or, "because I am in hurry today." Consider these two opposing ways of explaining things to yourself.

Dispositional Attributions:

Looks like that sports car is going to try to get in ahead of me. It's coming real fast. I gotta close that gap to keep it out...(speeding up to the end of the line to keep him out). He's still coming fast, no, no, you bastard hog! Weaseling in, forcing me to jam the brake down. You don't deserve to have a nice day. You did it because you're such an evil person.

Situational Attributions:

Looks like that sports car is going to try to get in ahead of me. It's coming real fast. I gotta close that gap to keep it out. Let him come in behind me. (speeding up to the end of the line to keep him out). He's still coming fast, OK, I have no choice but to let him in. He is forcing his way into the lane. Maybe he is in a desperate hurry to get somewhere. I suppose I would do the same. Maybe I should've let him in in the first place.

The dispositional attribution ends you in negative country while the situational attribution takes you out of it, affording you positive, healthy, community-building occasions with other road users.

A common fear of drivers is that they will break the unspoken rules of the road and thus cause others to hate them. When we inconvenience other drivers, we expect them to react with negative thoughts and emotions aimed at us. In traffic, as a rule, we cut each other no slack, and we attribute negative reactions to all other drivers. How close is this imagined response to reality? The drivers we talked to admitted that they don't always think negatively about other drivers, though it's routine to do so. So, much of what we imagine others are thinking of us as drivers is just fantasy. But these fantasies are standard attributions we make in traffic, and they are knitted into the fabric of our thoughts and feelings while driving.

Driver's Double Standard

It's important for you to observe your causal attributions in traffic so that you can convince yourself that your logic is biased, being blindly in favor of your actions even when you're wrong. Drivers tend to take credit for a skillful maneuver like squeezing into a densely packed line of cars, or getting somewhere faster than usual. However, when we find a parking ticket on the windshield we want to blame the "over-zealous" police officer. We congratulate ourselves for doing our job well, but criticize police for doing their job! Our logic is biased and self-serving, inconsistent and troublesome. Self-serving logic is maladaptive and ultimately self-destructive. Realizing this truth might prompt us to want to change our double standard.

We treat others harshly by seeing their behavior as what they freely choose to do; but we excuse what we do by seeing it as "forced" on us by an inevitable result of the situation.

CARtoon 11-7
Dispositional Attribution
One car is passing another in the left lane. The two cars are even. The driver of the passing car thinks: "He was going so slow. Now that I'm passing him, he speeds up, just to irritate me and make me mad. Because of him I look like a fool."

We permit ourselves to close the gap in our line to prevent entry, but when others do it to us, they're doing it to "irritate" us. We look like a fool "because of them." When we speed, it's not because we choose to break the limit, it's because we "have to", being in the left lane. Becoming aware of this natural tendency for attributional bias can help us change our attitudes and feelings towards other drivers, to extend a sense of community to traveling on the road.

I have to go above the limit because I'm in the left lane. That's just the way it is in the left lane. I like that, live your life in the left lane. Yeah, you always get go 15 to 20 over the speed limit.

Traffic Schemas

We normally use slogans for categorizing people and events. "Schemas" are slogans or pictures we make-up in our mind about everyday situations as we experience them, over and over. These representations help us to quickly recognize what's going on at a glance, without having to figure things out each time all over again. If we apply this concept to the traffic situation, we can examine the content of our own driving schemas to see if they are accurate or distorted, thus, whether they need revising.

For example, a basic traffic schema we all have relates to the difference between the role of driver vs. passenger (see Chapter 8). Drivers can chose a "role schema" that puts them in control of the vehicle. In their mind, passengers are assigned the role of sitting passively. This is an authoritarian type of role schema based on the image and power of captains, pilots and commanders. There may be a role clash when a driver's schema forbids receiving passenger feedback while the passenger's schema does. In this case, when a passenger expresses a concern or suggests a change in the driver's behavior, the driver's schema contradicts the passenger's action. The driver experiences irritation or anger and may feel like retaliating verbally. To humanize the situation, drivers need to change their role schema to agree with the passengers' schema. It's arbitrary and unfair for a driver to insist on a role schema that violates the human rights of passengers.

Rather than forcing the passenger to shut up, a driver can avoid negative emotions by expanding the role schema to include passenger feedback.

She always bugged me whenever I gave her a ride home up the hill. It's a winding road with lots of switchbacks, and she'd always brace herself by slamming her hand on the dashboard at every turn, as if she would fall over without it. Why couldn't she just hold the door handle like everyone else? Why does she have to make a scene on every turn? I couldn't stand driving her because of that. She never said anything, and neither did I.

Now, after studying my own driving behavior, I know that I need to include her comfort and feelings of safety as part of my own responsibility as a driver. I was upset when I realized that I was such an insensitive person, that I ignored her instead of talking to her or adjusting my speed around the turns. After doing the work on my driving, it's not a big deal really, and I find that I even enjoy it more when my passenger is relaxed.

She expanded her role schema to include feedback from the passenger as part of the information the driver needs to respond to. She's now including gestures as important feedback, and she enjoys caring about the passengers' feelings of safety. She finds this role change satisfying and empowering. Clearly, intolerance or tolerance of passengers is the result of the driver's role schema, which fortunately, can be modified with conscious effort and technique.

Traffic Scripts

Cognitive scientists use the word script to refer to the sub-components of a schema. For instance, when you enter a restaurant, you know what to do because you have learned a "restaurant script" -- executing a sequence of actions appropriate to the restaurant situation such as choosing a table, ordering, waiting, eating, paying the bill, leaving. All day long we follow the scripts that we acquire through habit and practice. This saves time and mental effort in having to re-figure everything from scratch.

At some point, schemas and scripts become so habitual and automatic that we are no longer aware of them. The script sub-consciously guides our actions and expectations. At this point, our behavior can be held captive to rigid scripts, preventing us from adapting and changing appropriately. Practicing the self-witnessing technique loosens your scripts through greater awareness, and prepares them for editing.

Your scripts and schemas can be very specific. You expect different things from various passengers, be they parents, children, a spouse, friends, or the driver license inspector. We have a separate script for each of these situations. Scripts that govern our driving behavior take into account the type of road and the neighborhood. The script for driving with a police car behind you is different from the "no fusize="3" script. Your driving schema in downtown traffic, at a time when you feel like you're fighting your way through it, has a more aggressive script in comparison to your neighborhood driving script.

Stereotypes -- It's a Lady Driver

A schema or script can be the basis for holding on to stereotypes and prejudices. Take for example person-schemas that are part of our beliefs about other people. One motorist was irritated at a car that was moving slower in his lane. When he got around the car and looked at the driver, he felt disdain: "It's a lady driver. They can't drive. She obviously doesn't get my hint." His person-schema for women drivers forces him to see every encounter in this biased manner. He has practically no chance of discovering the truth and of seeing traffic events in an objective manner.

We are all at the mercy of our un-witnessed schemas! Prejudiced person-schemas can pile up unexamined with every encounter that is made to fit the earlier category. You become victim to your own self-fulfilling prophecy.

I can't understand why this car has to go so slow. It just bugs me to no end. Look at this, it's driving at 40 when the max is 45. O.K . so at least they should get up to 45. I can't stand this. I told myself I'm going to have a nice leisurely drive to the shopping center. I'm not in any hurry. So why do I feel this way? #@$%*. I'm gonna pass this guy.

Oh, shoot. I almost hit that miserable car. Where the dickens did it come from. Wow, I feel totally bummed out. My heart won't stop pounding. Imagine I could've been...Man, I'm gonna loose this guy. I'm putting on my blinker. I'm looking in the rear view window. Don't want something to happen. I don't see anyone. I'm looking over my shoulder just to make sure. VVVrrrooom, it feels good to press the accelerator.

I'm gonna give this guy a dirty look, #@$%*. Oh my God look at this old, old guy. What on earth is he doing on the road. He 's so short his head hardly reaches the top of the wheel. That's it man, you gotta get rid of these old folks.

Every time this motorist encounters an older driver he automatically, and subconsciously, repeats this script, reinforcing the schema until it's ingrained. All objectivity is then lost. From then on, fast moving older drivers are never noticed. They seem not to exist for this motorist because they are not part of his schema. This is the mechanism by which driving stereotypes are transmitted and maintained --

* about men versus women drivers

* about particular ethnic groups with whom they share the road

* about certain types of cars

* about the personality of their owners.

Self-witnessing in traffic is an effective approach to managing driving schemas and scripts -- the controlling agents that are at work behind the scenes in your mental world.

The speed-hungry motorist who wanted to get rid of older drivers, was persuaded by a friend to do a driving persona make-over. One of the elements he chose to work on was his obsession with checking out the driver of a car that displeased him. But "old drivers" was not his only negative schema. He had a dozen others involving women drivers, tourists in rental jeeps, young drivers, truck drivers, police, foreign car drivers, expensive car drivers, drivers in cars with dents from collisions that had not been repaired, and several others.

His self-modification program consisted of two steps. First he engaged in self-witnessing activities to become more aware of his behind the scenes schemas and scripts. This unearthed the series of driver stereotypes just mentioned. He had not been aware of them as negative stereotypes. He merely assumed that they described the reality of the road. This is how everybody he knew talked about it, from his family to his circle of friends and co-workers. This is also how they talk on TV and in novels.

The self-witnessing exercise was a tremendous relief to me. I mean to discover that I didn't have to be stuck with all that garbage about this kind of a car or that kind of a person. I'm aware now that I hated all that. It was just a habit, I guess. But I mean as soon as I looked at it I saw my parents and their ethnic prejudices. That wasn't me, not really.

So now I had a chance of doing something about it. No one will believe how easy it was. It was just a simple little trick. All I had to do was think about it logically. I just stopped looking! That's all. I just refused to look. OK I admit, it wasn't always easy. Sometimes I felt this force pulling my head sideways so I could check out the driver but I would force myself back. It was real weird. Like I'm possessed or something and I'm fighting against this demon.

Anyway it wasn't that hard. I mean after I did it a few times, then I did it some more, and then I started feeling like why was this so hard before. O.K., so after I stopped looking my mind was still doing weird things. It was like I was having an illusion that I did see the driver and that explained why they were driving this way or that way, you know. Like I said. So that really freaked me out cause I knew it wasn't true. I didn't look. But this kind of stuff didn't last very long. So basically the whole thing was pretty easy.

Once in a while I still catch myself looking, but not like in a premeditated way, like before when I was looking forward to it and planning what I was going to do and all that stuff. But now I use an additional technique which is to stop thinking bad stuff about other drivers. I mean things just automatically pop into my head about how somebody is driving, or maybe they're doing something like talking on a phone or putting on make-up, stuff like that.

So normally I just talk to myself about them, like how strange they are or why can't they keep their distance behind me and stuff like that. So now I am more aware of it, that I'm doing it, and I just make myself stop. That's it. I just say, No, No, that's bad. Stop it. Or, I'm thinking that I shouldn't be judging people. That's not right. And that kind of stuff. So now I feel healed.

What a nice way of coming out of your driving personality make-over experience -- "So now I feel healed." He made use of a classic technique known in cognitive therapy as thought stopping. He realizes that he acquired the family's habit of thinking judgmentally about other people in terms of their gender, age, race, and ethnic background. Freedom is the power to say no to our old scripts. "I just say, No, No, that's bad. Stop it."

Traffic schemas and scripts can be modified no matter how ingrained they are. Of course, the motivation has to be there. This individual found it in his moral self. "I'm thinking that I shouldn't be judging people. That's not right." He examined himself, saw a character weakness, and used his newly acquired skills as a traffic psychologist to strengthen himself, and thus, to free himself.

CARtoon 11-14
Back to Driving Sanity
Highway scene with bubbles showing what drivers are thinking: "I'm very very angry"; "I feel like retaliating"; "I'm enraged"; "I'm gonna sue the Mayor for this"; "This is not fun" Other bubbles coming from three of the cars show what the radio is saying: "Captivated drivers wake up, throw away"; "your emotional shackles, and join the"; "new way of participatory driving." Bottom Caption reads: "Road Democracy"

Healthy Driving Schemas

We've been looking so far at negative schemas and scripts, but these are in a sense corruptions of healthy, positive schemas. A schema is a cognitive or mental tool for organizing information into chunks. When we are backing into a parking stall, our schema prevents us from backing into the wall or the other car. The parking schema has several scripts in it

* control the accelerator very carefully

* be prepared to break instantly

* never let the bumper touch the wall

* move your head alternately between front and back

Even these sub-schemas have their own elements, for example what to do with the eyes and hands. No wonder it would be difficult and expensive to build robots that can park your car. It's quite a complex skill. And yet, after enough practice, we park our cars with relative ease. Many drivers enjoy parking cars in tight places while others dislike it. In either case, however, nearly everyone can accomplish it with the help of parking schemas and scripts that are built-up through practice and the desire to become good at it.

Modifying Your Driving Scripts

The building of driving habits is gradual and cumulative. You can see that cleaning up our driving habits is a Herculean task that might take weeks and months of dedicated effort. We need to watch out for the tendency to make excuses for ourselves. This is not to say that we must be perfect at all times, only that if we encounter a lapse, we should not just accept it or excuse it. To the extent that we make excuses for our traffic weaknesses, to that extent we justify them, accept them, and perpetuate them. We then lose control over our traffic schemas and scripts. Our driving persona becomes a stranger to us. It's no longer we who are driving, but some temporary jack ass, jerk, or bully.

Positive driving schemas and scripts create a healthy mental climate behind the wheel. The driver becomes a competent, compassionate, and happy motorist. Appropriate scripts take over under specific conditions -- being in downtown traffic, on the freeway, in the parking lot, or just down the block from home.

Unconscious Driving

While driving schemas are necessary for motorists, they introduce the tendency of unconscious driving. Unexamined schemas continue to be automatically reinforced with each new traffic incident, reducing your ability to be aware of your own driving persona. A lifelong and unrecognized habit of bad driving affects the individual intellectually, morally, and spiritually. The capacity for objectivity and rational thinking is reduced, while extreme emotions of impatience, frustration, and aggression are turned loose within our minds. An otherwise nice person turns into a driving demon whose thoughts and feelings, if seen on-screen, would horrify them and their friends.

Pressure Tactics in Traffic

When we do something we don't think we should be doing, there must be a behind the scenes reason for our action. This unidentified script is kept in place by some fear or other emotion. It feels as though we're coerced to act in a certain way. Social psychologists call this pressure "social conformity." It's a kind of inner coercion or compulsion to "fit in" or to "not stand out." If we apply this concept to traffic psychology we can easily recognize its effects when we observe the way we habitually drive in convoys (see Chapter 7).

Motorists on busy two-lane highways tend not to tolerate motorists who don't conform to the speed of the convoy. Regulars on that highway, or perhaps some self-appointed bully type personas, exert strong pressure on other drivers to conform. They use all sorts of inventive but disturbing tactics:

* tailgating

* giving stares and dirty looks

* speeding by

* revving the engine

* cutting in and cutting you off

* performing threatening gestures

* yelling through the window

* giving chase

* trying to run someone off the road.

Non-conformity in traffic is seldom tolerated.

I love to follow along with the convoy. I always try to join a group of cars. I don't have to worry about speeding because everyone else is. I just go the same speed as the group. I don't stick out, I blend in. I don't like it when someone tries to break up the convoy so they can get ahead. So I close ranks to do my part to help maintain the integrity of the pack. I think other drivers feel the same as I do.

We don't want to start a war on the road, with regulars on one side and non-conformists on the other. Perhaps it's true, as some traffic engineers argue, that the speed of a convoy is not as dangerous as what the pack members do when getting around a slower moving vehicle that travels at "mere" speed limit. This means that if you're traveling in a convoy above the speed limit, as we almost always are, it's better to conform to the going speed than to attempt to hold things back by slowing down. Engineers say that the most dangerous element is the change in rate, caused by lane hopping and rubbernecking.

Stuck on Yellow

In traffic, being part of the crowd shows itself in many ways, some beneficial, some not. Take for instance our tendency to run a yellow light that's about to turn red. It's understandable when you're caught right in the middle of the intersection as the light turns yellow. In that case, we have time to cross or turn before the light becomes red. But think of the situation where you've been waiting in a left turn only lane behind two other cars. Opposing traffic prevents the first car from going until the light turns yellow. The first car turns and the second makes a run for it, even though the light has been yellow for a few seconds. What do you do as the third car?

You may not think it's right or legal, yet you feel the pressure of conformity to go along and speed through to make it across. You don't want to be the one who is "stuck back there."

I should go, I should go. Will I go though? I should go. They expect me to go. If I don't go they'll think I'm a wimp. I hated that. I have to go, oh wow, I'm going. No cops.

Somehow our pride has gotten involved on the wrong side of the battle. A higher, inner conformity to the law, to decency, to safety has given way to a lower, more external conformity of "Be proud of getting away with it." Practicing traffic psychology can help get our national psyche out of this denigrating bind.

Lane Hopping Illusions

Another area in traffic where conformity pressures you is lane switching in the hope of moving faster and getting ahead. The illusion that the lane you're in is slower puts you at risk for conformity pressures. You observe one or two drivers switch lanes. You notice how they act resolutely, with assuredness. Surely they know what they're doing. Off you go with them, switching lanes. Seeing others do it puts pressure on you to do it. You're acting under the pressure of social conformity.

Uncritical conformity contributes to disorder and chaos on the roadway. Unsafe leaders can lead other drivers astray. When you are deciding on an action in traffic, think about the conformity angle. In fact, you are an influence on others in traffic, good or bad. Your unsafe behavior can become a stimulus that others will imitate when they experience the pressure of conformity from your actions. Say No to being an unsafe leader.

Freedom to be Decent

Resisting external conformity in traffic can be successful when you decide to oppose it by calling on your reserves of high and deep motives within your psyche. They empower you to obey road regulations and respect human rights. These are the customs of common decency. You'll be happily surprised when you discover that once you accept obedience to decency, you'll be rewarded with sweet, innocent and noble feelings. Besides this boost to your self-esteem, choosing obedience will give you the freedom to observe how others drive without feeling compelled to follow their example. Freedom from the pressures of external conformity and power tactics, at last!

CARtoon 11-21
Traffic Virus
Meeting around an oval table. Sign on the wall reads: "Traffic Safety Council" Speaker at the lectern reads from a letter: "...And so it is with regrets that I'm announcing the closure of the Traffic Safety Council. I want to thank..." One member says to the person sitting next to him: "Why are we disbanding?" The other answers: "It started with a tourist from the Garden Isle who was driving with Aloha. His harmless driving style was contagious and quickly spread throughout the city. Now the Mayor thinks we're not needed anymore." Bottom Caption reads in strong letters: "WISHFUL THINKING"

Driving from an inner, higher motive counteracts the current road war mentality. The more motorists adopt this orientation, the easier it will be for others to do so as well. Decency in traffic is contagious. Try it to prove it to yourself. Conformity can then operate in the positive direction. Driving with integrity leaves you free to be proud of yourself when

* you comply with the law

* stay within the speed limits

* stop at yellow lights

* drive at a safe following distance

* stay mostly within one lane.

You'll be free to admire drivers who are polite and inoffensive, and you'll give yourself permission to feel decent and compassionate towards others on the road.

Captive Motorists

Drivers are continually exposed to numerous stressors. Any incident can potentially turn into a catastrophe. There is hardly a warning. In addition to coping with dangers on the outside, on the inside motorists have to face the harshness of their own driving personality. As many of the testimonials show, the unreformed driving persona is a comic book character who desires to turn every exchange into an insult and is willing to be exposed to real danger by executing risky and impulsive maneuvers.

Motorists have become captive to their own type of comic book driving personality. Every day, as a matter of routine, we have to endure the hell created by our virtual comic book characters. The pain and suffering we experience collectively as a nation in one single year, is as staggering as most wars this nation has ever fought, and, unbelievable as this may seem, we're willing to repeat this experience, year after year. Traffic psychology has the potential of bringing sanity back to our highways and roads. Like the witnesses in this book, all motorists can rediscover a sense of humanity as drivers.

Your Moral Driving IQ

Driving is an interactive exchange between motorists in traffic. Our driving habits and style are external, visible consequences of behind the scenes events in the mind. These mental events are your thoughts and feelings. Driving exchanges involve body and mind.

The mind, like the brain, has two sides. The left brain corresponds to the cognitive mind filled with thoughts, perceptions, and judgments, while the right brain corresponds to the affective mind filled with feelings, emotions, and motives. Psychologists have studied the two minds calling one "cognitive development" and the other "moral or affective development" Your cognitive IQ is a measure of your intellectual development and ability to perform problem-solving tasks. Areas include language, arithmetic, spatial reasoning, and attention to detail. Your affective IQ is a measure of your moral development and ability to manage your impulses and motives. Areas include sensitivity to people's emotional needs and respect for their human rights.

A series of well known studies by Dr. Lawrence Kohlberg and his associates, investigated the developmental stages of moral behavior in general. He would tell people a set of stories that contained moral dilemmas and asked them to explain what they thought would be the right thing to do in the hypothetical situations. For example, a homeless person in a supermarket steals a toothbrush for his child, and gets caught: what should be his punishment and why?

Kohlberg analyzed the moral reasoning of people of all ages and found that they differ in validity. Apparently, many adults have an underdeveloped moral sense and still use reasoning patterns that are more appropriate for children. He also constructed several objective tests, still in use today, which would help a psychologist determine the level of moral development of a person.

Applying these notions to traffic psychology, we can see that driving ability has two components, one cognitive or rational, the other affective or moral. For most drivers, these two parts seem to act independently. For instance, new drivers may be inexperienced and undeveloped cognitively, but morally they may be advanced, acting with prudence and decency. Many experienced drivers may have highly developed cognitive skills while their moral feelings remain underdeveloped. They drive with impulsiveness and aggression in their heart. Kohlberg identified several stages of moral development in people, which we can apply to motorists in traffic.

Pre-Conventional Morality

During the first decade of life our moral reasoning is immature. Children divide things up into things you can do without getting punished, and things you can't do because you will get punished. This is called "preconventional morality" because it is not directly related to a sense of responsibility. The motivating force is fear of punishment rather than guilt or remorse.

Some people continue this immature orientation in adult life. In traffic for example, witnesses feel no remorse or guilt for breaking the law or violating someone's rights and freedom. Our sense of morality appears quite distant and unimportant when we coerce other drivers to speed up by riding threateningly on top of them. This is called tailgating. Is tailgating a moral issue, in your view?

Witness what you feel when you force a motorist to move over. Do you feel a tinge of remorse and shame, or do you feel glee and self-satisfaction? When you speed and weave between lanes, you watch out for cops around you, so as not to get caught. Witness the attitude with which you usually drive. Is your concern to not get caught, or is it to obey the law and be fair to others? You can know whether you are operating with a low moral driving IQ by answering these questions honestly to yourself. As an unreformed driver, chances are that your moral driving IQ is still at this first level! One of the great benefits of practicing traffic psychology is that it elevates and deepens our moral development.

Conventional Morality

As children become adolescents, their sense of morality generally grows into the second phase, called "conventional morality." At this stage we become more conformist internally, not just externally. We comply with regulations out of a sense of loyalty to the social order and we begin to feel guilty if we hurt others or break their trust in us. Most of our witnesses show both preconventional and conventional levels of morality in traffic. Some drivers might speed at all times except when traffic police is in evidence. At the same time they feel ashamed and uncomfortable when other drivers show irritation with some of their maneuvers. Observe the conditions under which you feel these emotions in traffic:

shame, guilt, remorse, embarrassment, regret, fear of injuring someone.

These are feelings which help us stay within the internal bounds of conventional morality. These feelings protect us from overstepping the bounds of decency. They need to be cultivated and encouraged.

Motorists have a constant homeostatic balance to achieve in traffic. On the one hand, we feel impulsed to take care of Number One in this highway war zone. On the other hand, we desire to avoid being a non-caring, opportunistic, weasel with hardly any feelings for fellow human beings. Upon this balance rests our sanity. If we allow our conventional moral feelings to weaken and wither in traffic, we unleash madness on the highways. If we drive too timidly and without self-confidence, we become a hazard and obstruction to others. A moral balance must be reached between self-interest and community support.

Post-Conventional Morality

When we mature fully as adults, starting with the third decade of life, our moral development enters the third or "postconventional" phase which, according to Kohlberg, represents the highest stage that most people will attain for the rest of their lives. In the post--conventional stage of moral development, motorists act out of a sense of inner principle -- responsibility and pride, rather than out of fear of punishment (stage 1) or out of conformity and loyalty to others (stage 2).

In this advanced phase we are more discriminating of the situation, and we tend to adjust our behavior to circumstances. For instance, witnesses recognize that speeding is illegal and dangerous, and consciously condemn it as bad practice. Yet they allow themselves to go above the law when they feel that it's justified. One witness felt that it was all right for him to speed when there was no traffic since he wasn't putting anyone in jeopardy. Similarly, it was permissible to speed along with a convoy since he was just doing what everyone else was doing. Another driver felt it was all right to tailgate motorists who were driving too slow in the fast lane since they were "immorally" blocking the way of others.

Morally mature drivers rely on an inner sense of self-worth as a human being. Conscience dictates behavior, not the fear of punishment or the desire to dominate. Before we can experience altruism we need to feel empathy for people's plight and sympathy for their suffering. Do you see another driver in distress? Let it become a stimulus for your coming to the rescue. Soon your new attitude becomes an automatic response shown as helpfulness and consideration for others.

Motorists who have nurtured a high moral driving IQ are more stable, reliable, and free. They are less subject to pressure by others and maintain their own style of driving in which they strongly believe. They value positive exchanges but they are not swayed by loyalty or approval. Seeing others drive badly, they are not tempted to do likewise but maintain their strong internal convictions. Though they have the right of way, they may still allow another car to go first. They are involved in the human side of the exchange more than in having to make that green light. Moral drivers have learned to accept the fact that they need to take other people's feelings into account. In addition, they are aware that their behavior can have a positive or negative influence on others.

Since these three levels of driving morality exist, we all need to do some honest self-witnessing in traffic to find out our own level. For instance, is your driving persona the same or different when you drive alone or with a passenger? You may be carrying on a secret frenzied lifestyle when driving alone, but you tone yourself down to normal when you have passengers who can observe your reactions. This inconsistency would show that your morality depends on external things such as fear of disapproval, rather than on your own internal principles.

Test Yourself Exercise: -- What's your Moral Driving IQ?

We asked motorists to list the situations in traffic that caused them to become aggressive drivers and inconsiderate of others. See how many apply to you.

___ When there is heavy traffic in front of me going in the same direction, I weave and try to get ahead.

___ When another car is trying to cross my path or enter my lane, I close the gap to prevent it from entering.

___ When I'm late in getting to my destination, I become less patient and tailgate slow moving motorists.

___ When someone cuts me off and then proceeds to slow down, I feel like hitting that car from the back.

___ When a driver cuts in front of me suddenly, especially without signaling first, I get very nasty thoughts about them.

___ When I'm showing off for friends, I take too many risks.

___ When I'm listening to loud, fast music on my stereo, I drive like I feel.

___ When I drive late at night, I become a speed demon.

___ When I encounter road hugging pedestrians, I feel like pushing them out of my way.

___ When other drivers become aggressive or tailgate me, I slow down to punish them.

___ When I'm surrounded by other automobiles and I get that closed in feeling, I feel like bolting out.

___ When I'm under stress due to work, I get very angry at all the other drivers and take it out on them.

___ When I have problems on my mind and it's hot and people cut in front of me, I want everybody else to get off the road.

___ When a passenger criticizes me, it puts me in a bad mood and I retaliate verbally.

___ When there is an aggressive environment around me and cocky motorists drive recklessly next to me, I get into an angry rebellious mood.

___ When other drivers think that they are the only ones on the road and act carelessly, I start hating them.

___ When cars next to me or behind me do something stupid like signaling and then not turning, I call them bad names in my mind.

___ When others squeeze their cars in front of me and I have to come to a screeching halt, I feel like crashing into them to teach them a lesson.

___ When other people don't follow traffic signals like failing to make a full stop, I lambaste them with terrible words.

___ When I'm in a rush to get somewhere, upset, or frustrated and I feel that it's taking more time than I can afford, I then cut in front of other cars and go through yellow lights.

Note that the things that aggravate us are the very things that we all do. So we're doing it to each other.

Be a Traffic Witness

To stop driving each other crazy we first need to become more conscious of our traffic life. We have to witness ourselves in the act of thinking and doing crazy things. When you see the madness in you, you will want to stop. That's what happened to the witnesses whose biographical stories you read in this book. Wanting to stop gives you the motivation to change. Successful self-modification is a matter of persistence, which means, exerting effort to overcome resistance to change. Keep the left brain from interfering with what the right brain is doing. In other words, use affective or moral power within you to tame your baser nature. Let a new traffic you emerge, one that is nicer, nobler, more attractive, more rational and human.

The transformation of your traffic life begins with self-witnessing. You can't rely on your impressions of yourself, as you might when filling out a questionnaire about "What Kind of Driver Am I" (see Chapter 3). You can't rely on your reputation or self-image. You can't rely on retrospective reports about yourself, such as the driving stories you tell sometimes. You can't rely on your passengers to tell it like it is, since they're under constant threat of retaliation by you (see Chapter 8). Therefore self-witnessing is a way out of your self-encapsulated bubble of isolation that supports your current comic book driving personality.

Self-witnessing is objective because you are then looking at yourself like others see you. You are being an audience to yourself. You observe yourself as you are in the making. You speak your thoughts and feelings out loud, forcing you to hear like another would. You're faced with the naked intensity of your negative impulses and the horrendous content of your irrational thoughts. Shocked by this sorry display, you react against yourself. How awful I am! By this, you put yourself into the frame of freedom. You do have a choice.

You begin to gain insight into a psychological pattern of your traffic personality. What are the things that aggravate you? A car squeezes in; a car crosses your path; a car cuts you off; a car acts carelessly. You are in a rut. Perhaps you need to reform the way you define what other motorists do. Exactly what is it that pushes your button when another car enters your path? "The driver didn't signal" or "The car forced me to break hard." "The car took a right turn from the left lane." "The car parked too close to my driveway." Are these the underlying cause? This is crucial to understand. Let's go deeper.

You can see that "not signaling" or "squeezing in" or "cutting me off" are actions by others that become stimuli to us. It appears that these stimuli act like triggers to our emotional reaction. We become aware of our frustration and anger and we attribute these feelings to the offensive stimulus. How dare they act so callously as to force us to brake suddenly? Surely they're being careless and offensive and insulting. They're being bad. They deserve my righteous indignation.

The fact, however, is that we have a choice in our reactions. We are not automatons responding to stimuli. We can't keep using the insanity defense on our behalf, over and over, every trip. We must face up to it: getting mad or being aggressive is one choice; another is to de-dramatize the situation and to look for more objective explanations for the other driver's action. One way to be more objective is to apply to others what you can observe about yourself. Consider what happens when it's your turn to squeeze in somewhere. What's on your mind? "Hey, folks, please let me in, or I'll miss my exit" or some other version.

In other words, you are looking at the situation objectively. You have a legitimate purpose to execute -- making a turn. Your need is real. Motorist A needs to get into the other lane to catch an exit; motorist B and C need to make space. Simple and objective. It's easy to have this point of view when you're motorist A. But when you're motorist B or C, you balk. You refuse to give space, you prevent motorist A from getting space, you're angry at motorist A for trying to "squeeze in" ahead of you. Clearly, you're not being objective in role B and C. Instead, you're subjectively dramatizing or mythifying the exchange. Suddenly it has turned into a bizarro comic book situation where we delight in acting grossly and in thinking and feeling crazy in multiple ways. In the words of traffic witnesses:

I tailgate; I become impatient; I quickly close the gap; I feel like hitting them, killing them, sweeping them off the road; giving them a piece of my mind; punish them; teach them a lesson; show them I'm no pushover, and so on.

When asked why they get mad, motorists give irrational excuses rather than psychological causes of their violence and alienation. "I become crazy because..."

I'm late; under stress; in a rush; in a bad mood; showing off; listening to loud music; getting that closed in feeling; responding to other aggressive motorists.

We thus confuse the situation with the cause. There are three elements to consider in any aggressive traffic exchange: the objective situation, the psychological cause, and the personal context.

The objective context:

You're driving and you're in a hurry to get somewhere. Other motorists are also there. Some of them are also in a hurry. You are forced to slow down. They are forced to slow down. You need to take an exit, they need to take an exit.

The psychological context:

You strive to impose your will on others. You want to coerce other drivers to act in a certain way that suits you, even if it doesn't suit them.

The personal context:

Your moral values are suspended and you create a self-righteous theory that justifies your aggressiveness.

To understand how these three elements act together, start with the personal context. If you suspend your moral orientation, you can invent a theory that justifies your aggression "under certain conditions". By ignoring the moral angle, you're setting-up a psychological trigger mechanism for your aggressive reaction, just waiting to go off at the right time. When the objective situation puts several cars in the same vicinity of the road, you're forced to brake because another car is trying to go somewhere and you happen to be there at the same instant. You react by aggressing against the person in some way since you feel justified.

Greening of the Highway

The psychological cause of aggressiveness is undercut and disappears as soon as we get rid of this orientation of coercion in traffic, . Aggressive driving and grossly violent thoughts aren't the result of being late in heavy traffic. They're the result of our culture of power and coerciveness. The greening of the highway and the humanizing of driving will take place as soon as motorists are willing to give up their current commitment to coercion.

What would make anyone give up the privilege to feel enraged and think abhorrent thoughts privately? We believe that the answer lies in the universal desire to be fair-minded, noble, and caring. We're convinced that all individuals can tap into a higher spiritual source within themselves from which they can obtain rational thoughts and loving feelings. It helps if you can see this as a moral issue:

public roadways shared by licensed motorists,
each having a right to proceed.

Therefore you must not interfere with their rights just as they ought not to interfere with yours. Can you see it as a spiritual issue: What's the good and right thing to do? Can we think of motorists as strangers, fellow citizens in jeopardy needing help, sympathy and dignity from us?

Aggressive Drivers in Europe

Some American drivers wonder whether we as a nation are more aggressive then other cultural groups. In fact, applied psychologists in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany have noted that a high level of aggression permeates the traffic environment in their countries, estimating that between 30% and 80% of all road accidents are due to driver aggressivity. In general, twice as many male drivers show aggressive behavior in comparison to female drivers. Researchers define aggression in traffic as the intention of the aggressor to injure the other driver who is the victim. This includes physical and mental harm.

In a Dutch study, the behavior of motorists was observed, without their knowledge, at a pedestrian crosswalk located on a moderately busy street. One member of the observation team would begin crossing the street just as a car was approaching the intersection. The driver's behavior was judged by another team member as either aggressive or not aggressive. Several criteria were used:

driver fails to stop; gesticulates; yells out; sounds the horn; shakes a fist; points at the forehead; shouts invectives; speeds up and acts like running down the pedestrians.

Approximately 1,000 cars were observed and 1 in 4 motorists (25%) were judged as aggressive in one way or another.

Danish vs. Dutch Drivers

Contrary to gender stereotypes, there was only a slight difference in degree of aggression shown by male (28%) and female drivers (24%). As expected, younger drivers were more aggressive than older (31% vs. 21%). Young male drivers were the most aggressive group (33%) while older women were the least aggressive (19%). Younger women were more aggressive than older men (26% vs. 21%). When the pedestrian was a male, all drivers showed aggression twice as often as when the pedestrian was female. Drivers were more aggressive in the afternoon than in the morning.

For the sake of comparison, the study was repeated in Denmark and Switzerland. Danish drivers were significantly less aggressive than their Dutch counterparts, irrespective of the gender of the pedestrian (12% vs. 25%). The Swiss were in between the Dutch and the Danes in driver aggressiveness. When the aggressive drivers were later contacted and interviewed, they didn't display the same degree of aggression as on the road. In fact, on the basis of the interview alone, it wasn't possible to predict who would be more or less aggressive in traffic situations. It's important to note that in Denmark, which had the least aggressive motorists, traffic education starts in kindergarten. It emphasizes the importance of social responsibility and greater awareness of one's feelings in traffic and how to express them in an appropriate manner.

Driving behavior studies in Germany tried to document the experiences of motorists in traffic by studying their degree of awareness of other drivers and their inner fears and conflicts. The German researchers gained a retrospective look at several hundred drivers by interviewing each of them in depth for more than two hours. Through these in-depth interviews, the researchers attempted to reconstruct the private world of the driver.

It appears from this study that motorists use a driving pattern to move the vehicle through traffic. Drivers operate within a "socio-psychological field." They respond to many stimuli arising from the interactions that maintain the flow of traffic. Several such patterns were identified. See how well they fit your style.

Driving Pathology

Psychologists who study how we perceive things discovered a type of homeostatic process called level of adaptation. Take the case of speed. The brain records the sensations our body experiences and stores them along a continuum from smaller to greater. The range of speed that we're used to travelling creates a specific level of adaptation. This is the speed your body expects to feel in particular segments of roadways. These sensations are part of your road schema.

One of the thrills that some driving witnesses consistently report is the sensation of acceleration. They talk about it as if it were an addiction they're in love with. How many drivers can identify with actor Tom Cruise before entering his jet airplane in Top Gun -- "I feel the need for speed?" Like with addiction in general, there's the inevitable tendency to keep pushing the range higher and higher in order to maintain the same amount of thrill. Physicians talk about developing a tolerance level for addictive drugs, requiring higher dosages to do the same job, in a continuous process of increasing intake. A similar process may be operating with speeding.

Motorists who allow themselves to fall into the speed thrill trap, destroy their normal level of adaptation to the car's motion. Their speed schema now includes a script that sequences their behavior to drive fast, hop back and forth across lanes, and consider other cars as mere impediments. They're condemned to forever trying to go faster, even when it's not possible. To passengers, this ferocious pursuit may appear like a dangerous obsession. But to the drivers, it only seems perfectly natural. They have adapted to a high level of risk and are dependent on it for the feeling of normalcy. How can you know when your level of adaptation to car motion is being pushed up abnormally high? There are two reliable symptoms.

* One: you always feel irritated at the ("slow") pace of traffic.

* Two: passengers show signs of being disturbed.

They might not even complain verbally, because drivers often punish such complaints by responding with sarcasm, denial, and threat (see Chapter 8).

Rush addicted drivers get impatient, frustrated, and irritated when traffic travels at regular rates. Staying in line and traveling with a convoy is intolerable for them. Their emotions explode. They begin to victimize their passengers and other drivers. They yell out obscenities. They act as if possessed by devils. As a nation we have become used to these extremes. Our level of adaptation for tolerating pathological driving behavior has increased.

Don't think you can get ahead of me because I am the leader today. I can stay ahead of all of you, a piece of cake. How high do I have to go to accomplish that? Oh, so you want to go 65 in a 35? O.K., can handle. Hey, is this a race or what, now I'm doing 70 to stay ahead. Feels fine to whip through here. Hope I don't get burned -- O.K., made it to the stop light. I'm still the leader here, great day!

These extreme thoughts and feelings illustrate the driver's ability to adapt to totally unreasonable and dangerous speeds without commenting on the rationality or safety of that action. We see it portrayed on-screen. Children are exposed to it directly and indirectly. Many people tell driving stories of their own uncivilized, coercive actions in traffic, and they seem to glory in it. Their unhealthy driving schema is filled with physical and psychological expectations that are beyond the legal, beyond the rational, beyond the moral. The very fabric of our most cherished values is at risk.

Driver Self-Education

There are two approaches to handling this threat. One is external and relies on surveillance of drivers, enforcement of laws, and punishment of those who are convicted. This approach is necessary but not sufficient since a small percentage of illegal acts are ever caught, and even fewer convicted. In his book License to Kill, Weier proposes that licensing procedures include a "psychological evaluation" to deny a driver's license to people who are likely to be dangerous on the road. But this is not a workable solution because personality tests are not foolproof methods for predicting people's performance in real life situations. Serious injustice would be perpetrated by excluding thousands of drivers who were judged inadequate on the personality "tests," yet would be no more dangerous on the road than those who passed the tests, possibly less.

A more democratic and appropriate approach would be continuing driver self-education to provide for the training of all motorists after they have been licensed. The self-witnessing reports of traffic witnesses clearly show that there's a need for continuous affective, emotional, and motivational training of drivers throughout their careers as motorists. A driving personality make-over is a matter of training the inner person. It must and should remain a voluntary matter. The inner self cannot be coerced because it's spiritually free. We do have moral choices. It's only our outer behavior that can be coerced by others. Inner behavior can only be coerced by the self, and this is a matter of choice and freedom.

When we choose in freedom we always choose what we love or what we desire. But we desire many things, both good and bad, and so we're conflictual. Yet desires are affective components in the self and therefore are arranged in a hierarchy of feelings and motives, some higher, some lower. When we respect and heed our conscience, higher motives have power over lower motives. The reverse is the case when we make it a habit to ignore and silence the voice of conscience. If you decide to become a reformed driver because of higher motives, you will succeed in your driving personality make-over.

As a driver, I want to be a better, more civilized person, an upright citizen, a kinder human being.

Mini-self modification experiment

The mini-self modification experiment that was implemented was to improve on behavior behind the wheel during the drive through traffic. This behavior of getting mad at the way other people drive, the situation which occurs daily monday through friday, of people just cutting over without knowing how much room there actually is. Slamming brakes on, I get mad at the other person. With the experiment each time I get mad for someone cutting me off, my passenger will notify me of my anger.  


Everytime I drive in the morning I drive through some light traffic to arrive at school, during this time I get cut off by another person driving in the next lane. The person cutting me off cuts in without signalling or when they start cutting they turn on the signal. In this experiment I will have my passenger keep track and notify me of getting mad. Reminding me that I should not get mad at the person, just keep driving and let it go.

Each day that I drove I noticed that I did get very upset each time someone cut me off forcing me to break. As a couple times passed I wondered why I was getting mad, I noticed that this anger was against the other person and the way they were driving. With this I found myself thinking more and more that the person will drive like this and there is nothing I can do so why do I upset myself, just let it pass. This thinking starting to let things pass happened about 4 days of being told that I was being mad.


My solution to the situation is that I found that acknowledging that I get mad at other people for cutting me off and just letting it go by saying to myself that I cannot control other people. By doing this I found myself just ignoring people when they cut me off, by saying why should my morning be ruined just watchout for these people and give them more space.

I think that using self-modification of knowing that I do something wrong or hazardous and changing the way I do things allows me to improve on my driving everyday. This should be apart of everyones life because driving is around us at all time of the day and everywhere we look. On a personal note I think that by self-modifying I can see that I need to work on some of the things associated with driving and this work can be accomplished by noticing what is wrong and how it can be improved.

Original here

Personality and Behavior

In the early days of driving at the turn of the century, psychologists generally believed that personality is a fixed element, much of it inherited, that is, attached to the individual and carried along all day as we interact with others. But this is no longer the majority view among personality experts today. For example, in his 1982 book, Personality, Genetics, and Behavior, famed British psychologist Hans J. Eysenck notes that known personality factors such as sociability or temperament, are not good predictors of behavior. In other words, a sociable person may act unsociable in any situation, if the right combination of circumstances occur. Or, a cool tempered individual may all of a sudden start snapping at others.

Research summarized by Walter Mischel in his popular textbook Personality and Behavior, clearly shows that a person's behavior style is not consistent, but is influenced by "situation factors." These may include where you are and who's present. Applying this idea to traffic psychology, we can see that the behavior of motorists is influenced by both personality and situation factors. What factors cause a motorist to drive in a hazardous manner? It's an interaction between personality factors such as habit or character and driving conditions such as traffic or destination. When you try to get to an appointment in unexpected heavy traffic, you are creating a driving condition full of stress and impatience. Normally calm and cautious motorists start driving aggressively and take hair-raising risks that are totally out of character with your normal personality.

Gender Stereotypes in Driving

Throughout history women have had a lower status in society. In our culture, it's more acceptable for men to behave aggressively and competitively, especially in their cars. In traditional society, women are often portrayed as submissive and passive. They're expected to be ethical and compassionate, and to take responsibility for caring for others. Driving is often viewed as a masculine activity that conveys a sense of power and control over a big machine. Driving involves adventure, risk-taking, speeding.

There's a widespread legend that male drivers are better. Men began to drive before women. According to statistics, men as a group still drive many more miles than women. As more and more women began to drive, social stereotypes about women naturally extended to this new activity. Surveys show that both men and women have the tendency to think of men as better drivers. But this may be changing as more men begin to appreciate less aggressive driving conditions. Men's driving schema in traffic is competitive while women's is participatory. Women drivers are more careful and take fewer chances. They are thus safer and more proficient. Female drivers tend to be more polite to passengers, pedestrians, and other motorists. By contrast, men exhibit rude behavior and a lack of self-control. Women tend to have more respect for authority. They are more obedient and comply with traffic regulations. Men tend to be more opportunistic in their driving; women are more responsible and orderly. Men show a greater lack of awareness of the consequences of their actions in traffic. Women are more motivated to care.

It appears from these observations that men are more egotistical drivers while women are more altruistic. Since women show a more genuine concern and regard for the welfare of others, they are capable of being better drivers than men. The solution to America's driving problems may depend on male motorists learning to drive more like women. Since female drivers are ordinarily more cooperative and cautious, less accidents would result. The entire society would benefit if all motorists would assume the preferred driving style of women. The stereotype of women drivers is blown. Of course it's possible for women drivers to drive aggressively and enjoy speeding, as you've seen from what some female witnesses have reported. They too need to change.

I'm adding a note here: recent surveys tend to show that women are getting to be more like men in their aggressiveness. Traffic Psychology Reports on these topics:

Personality and Insurance

Insurance companies include gender as one of the factors that help them establish the relationship between driver characteristics and accident risk. Other driver characteristics are age, accident record, moving violation record, and years of driving. These relationships influence the way insurance premiums are figured. The effect of age is easier to assess than that of gender. There is a substantial correlation between age and accident rates, with younger drivers in the 18-24 year grouping having higher accident rates. However, researchers have found it difficult to separate out the various effects involved. For example, middle-aged drivers who engage in aggressive risk-taking behaviors have accident rates even higher than some young motorists who drive more conservatively. Psychologists have used several types of measures in an effort to assess a driver's risk-taking tendency -- age, gender, type and age of car driven, accident and moving violation record, alcohol consumption history. A driver's experience is defined by the number of years driven, total miles driven, and the types of roads used -- city streets, rural roads, freeway, as well as the conditions of traveling -- rain, snow, and so on.

Researchers attribute the higher accident rates of younger drivers to three main factors. First, younger drivers are more inexperienced, yet have a tendency to drive more, and so, they are more exposed to risk. Second, they are over-confident, so they make more judgment errors. Third, they have a tendency to speed and tailgate, which involves them in a greater number of accidents. Alcohol is also a causative factor, but this is a problem that involves motorists of all ages.

Insurance company statistics show that the accident rate among male and female motorists are significantly different. But the cause of this difference hasn't been easy to pinpoint. For instance, the more men as a group accumulate total miles driven, the more their overall accident rates decline. For women, accident rates decline with the number of years of accumulated driving rather than with number of miles driven. Another pusize="3ling difference: the longer a male driver goes without having an accident, the less likely it is that he'll have another accident. Conventional wisdom says the opposite -- the longer you've gone without an accident, the more it's likely that you'll be having one. For women, the likelihood of getting into an accident doesn't depend on how long it's been since their last accident. Men who have a record of moving violations are more likely to get into an accident. Women who have an accident record are more likely to get into another one.

These correlational findings are interesting to read about but they don't give us a clear explanation why these differences exist between men and women drivers. Though there are significant differences between the accident proneness of male and female motorists under different conditions, it is not clear just what causes these differences. Male drivers have more accidents under certain conditions, which differ for female drivers. One possibility, as suggested by self-witnessing reports, is that men and women drivers differ in how they collect and process information in traffic. For example, on a Finger Tapping Test used by psychologists to measure muscular control, women perform slower than men, and the difference increases with age. On the other hand, on the Grooved Pegboard Test which measures hand-eye coordination, women perform substantially faster. But educational background is also a significant factor: better educated people, of both sexes, are faster than less educated individuals. Though this is only a hypothesis, perhaps these differences do influence our driving experiences.

Related articles by Leon James and Diane Nahl:

Road Rage and Aggressive Driving (book)

Chart of the Nine Zones of Your Driving Personality

A Traffic Psychologist Observes Himself Behind the Wheel

Driving Psychology |Driving Philosophy  || Traffic Emotions Education TEE Cards

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