James, Leon and Nahl, Diane (2002). Dealing With Stress And Pressure In The Vehicle. Taxonomy of Driving Behavior: Affective, Cognitive, Sensorimotor. Chapter In J. Peter Rothe, Editor. Driving Lessons - Exploring Systems That Make Traffic Safer. University of Alberta Press, Edmonton, Canada.


Dealing with stress and pressure in the vehicle

Taxonomy of Driving Behavior:

Affective, Cognitive, Sensorimotor



Dr. Leon James

Dr. Diane Nahl

University of Hawaii

October 2002




TOC \o "1-3" Why Driving is Stressful

Road Rage and Aggressive Driving................. PAGEREF _Toc472679429 \h

Why Prior Interventions Have Been Unsuccessful PAGEREF _Toc472679430 \h

From Traffic Safety to Driving Psychology PAGEREF _Toc472679431 \h

Driver Self-Witnessing......................................... PAGEREF _Toc472679432 \h

The Driver's Threefold Self--Affective, Cognitive, Sensorimotor PAGEREF _Toc472679433 \h

The Mental Health Of Drivers....................................................................................

Taxonomy of Driving Behavior....................................................................................

Summary of Current Applications..........................................................................

Basic Principles in Driving Psychology...............................................................

Applied Programs and Techniques.........................................................................

The Future of Driving............................................. PAGEREF _Toc472679439 \h


Appendix A:Additional Entries for the Taxonomy PAGEREF _Toc472679441 \h



Why Driving is Stressful


Driving in traffic routinely involves events and incidents. Events are normal sequential maneuvers such as stopping for the light, changing lanes, or putting on the brakes. Incidents are frequent but unpredictable events. Some of these are dangerous and frightening, like near-misses, while others are merely annoying or depressing, like missing one's turn or being insulted by a motorist. Driving events and incidents are sources of psychological forces capable of producing powerful feelings and irrational thought sequences.Driving is a highly dramatic activity that millions of people perform on a routine daily basis.The drama stems from high risk and unpredictability.Driving has two conflictual structural components--predictability and unpredictability.Both are present all of the time.Predictability, like maintaining steady speed in one's lane, creates safety, security, and escape from disaster.Unpredictability, like impulsive lane changes without signaling, creates danger, stress, and crashes.For many people driving is linked to the value of freedom of locomotion.On the one hand they get into cars and drive off where they please, the very symbol of freedom and independence.But on the other hand, as they are ready to take off into the open, they encounter restrictions and constrictions, preventing them from driving as they wish due to regulations and congestion.


The following list identifies 15 widely known conflictual aspects of driving that act as stressors.These are emotional challenges that are common occasions for expressing hostility and aggressiveness on highways and streets.


1.     Immobility:Most of the body during driving remains still and passive, not like walking where the entire body exerts effort and remains continuously active.Tension tends to build up when the body is physically restricted and constricted.


2.     Constriction:Motor vehicles are restricted to narrow bands of highway and street lanes.In congested traffic, one's progress is inevitably going to be continuously blocked by numerous other cars.Being thwarted from going forward when you expect to, arouses the emotion of restriction and constriction, and along with it, anxiety and the desire to escape from the constriction.This anxiety and avoidance prompts drivers to perform risky or aggressive maneuvers that get them and others into trouble.


3.     Regulation:Driving is a regulated activity, which means that government agencies and law enforcement officers get to tell drivers how fast to drive where, and how.Cars and trucks have powerful engines capable of going faster than what is allowed--ever.Drivers are punished for violating these regulations which they are responsible for knowing and obeying.This imposition, though lawful and necessary, arouses a rebellious streak in many people, which then allows them to regularly disregard whatever regulations seem wrong to them at the time or in the mood they are in.


4.     Lack of control:Traffic follows the laws that govern flow patterns like rivers, pipes, blood vessels, and streaming molecules.In congested traffic, the flow depends on the available spaces around the cars, as can be ascertained from an aerial view such as a traffic helicopter, or from a bridge above the highway.When one car slows down, hundreds of other cars behind run out of space and must tap their brakes to slow down or stop altogether, as in gridlock.No matter how one drives, it's not possible to beat the traffic waves, whose cause or origin starts miles from where you are.This lack of control over what happens is frustrating, stress producing, and tends to lead to venting one's anger on whoever is around--another driver, a passenger, a pedestrian, a construction worker, the government.


5.     Being put in danger:Cars are loved by their owners and they are expensive to fix.Even a scratch is stress producing because it reduces the car's value and is expensive to repair. Congested traffic filled with impatient and aggressive drivers creates many hair raising close calls and hostile incidents within a few minutes of each other.Physiological stress is thus produced, along with many negative emotions--fear, resentment, rage, helplessness, bad mood, and depression.


6.     Territoriality:The symbolic portrayal of the car has tied it to individual freedom and self-esteem, promoting a mental attitude of defensiveness and territoriality.Motorists consider the space inside the car as their castle and the space around the car as their territory.The result is that they repeatedly feel insulted or invaded while they drive, lulling them into a hostile mental state, even to warlike postures and aggressive reactions to routine incidents that are suddenly perceived as skirmishes, battles, or duels between drivers.For many motorists, driving has become a dreaded daily drudge, an emotional roller coaster difficult to contain and a source of danger and stress.


7.     Diversity:There are about 200 million licensed drivers in North America today, and they represent a diversity of drivers who vary in experience, knowledge, ability, style, and purpose for being on the road.These social differences reduce our sense of predictability because drivers with different ability and purpose don't behave according to the expected norms.The peace and confidence of motorists is shaken by events that are unexpected, and driving becomes more complex, more emotionally challenging.Diversity or plurality increases stress because it creates more unpredictability.


8.     Multi-tasking:The increase in dashboard complexity and in-car activities like eating, talking on the phone, checking voice e-mail, challenge people's ability to remain alert and focused behind the wheel.Drivers become more irritated at each other when their attention or alertness seems to be lacking due to multi-tasking behind the wheel.Multi-tasking without adequate training increases stress by dividing attention and reducing alertness.


9.     Denying our mistakes:Driving is typically done by automatic habits compiled over years, and this means that much of it is outside people's conscious awareness.Typically drivers tend to exaggerate their own "excellence," overlooking their many mistakes.When passengers complain or, when other drivers are endangered by these mistakes, there is a strong tendency to deny the mistakes and to see complaints as unwarranted.This denial allows drivers to feel self-righteous and indignant at others, enough to want to punish and retaliate, adding to the general hostility and stress level on highways.


10.  Cynicism:Many people have learned to drive under the supervision of parents and teachers who are critical and judgmental.We donít just learn to manipulate the vehicle; we also acquire an over-critical mental attitude towards it.As children we're exposed to this constant judgmental behavior of our parents who drive us around.It's also reinforced in movies portraying drivers behaving badly.This culture of mutual cynicism among motorists promotes an active and negative emotional life behind the wheel.Negative emotions are stress producing.


11.  Loss of objectivity:Driving incidents are not neutral:there is always someone who is considered to be at fault.There is a natural tendency to want to attribute fault to others rather than to self.This self-serving bias even influences the memory of what happened, slanting the guilt away from self and laying it on others.Drivers lose objectivity and right judgment when a dispute comes up.Subjectivity increases stress by strengthening the feeling that one has been wronged.


12.  Venting:Part of our cultural heritage is the ability to vent anger by reciting all the details of another individual's objectionable behavior.The nature of venting is such that it increases by its own logic until it breaks out into overt hostility and even physical violence.It requires motivation and self-training to bring venting under control before it explodes into the open.Until it's brought under conscious control, venting is felt as an energizing "rush" and promotes aggressiveness and violence.Nevertheless, this seductive feeling is short-lived and is accompanied by a stream of anger-producing thoughts that impair our judgment and tempt us into rash and dangerous actions.Repeated venting takes its toll on the immune system and acts as physiological stress with injurious effects on the cardio-vascular system (Williams and Williams, 1993).


13.  Unpredictability:The street and highway create an environment of drama, danger, and uncertainty.In addition heat, noise and smells act as physiological stress and aggravate feelings of frustration and resentment.Competition, hostility, and rushing further intensify the negative emotions. The driving environment has become tedious, brutish, and dangerous, difficult to adjust to on the emotional plane.


14.  Ambiguity:Motorists don't have an accepted or official gestural communication language.There is no easy way of saying "Oops, I'm sorry!" as we do in a bank line.This allows for ambiguity to arise:"Did he just flip me off or was that an apology?"It would no doubt help if vehicles were equipped with an electronic display allowing drivers to flash pre-recorded messages.Lack of clear communication between motorists creates ambiguity, which contributes to stress.


15.  Undertrained in emotional intelligence:Traditionally, driver education was conceived as acquainting students with some general principles of safety, followed by a few hours of supervised hands-on experience behind the wheel, or on a driving simulator.Developing sound judgment and emotional self-control were not part of the training, even though these goals were mentioned as essential.Most drivers today are untrained or under-trained, in cognitive and affective skills.Cognitive skills are good habits of thinking and judgment.Affective skills are good habits of attitude and motivation.Drivers thus lack the necessary coping abilities such as how to cool off when angered or frustrated, or how to cooperate with the traffic flow and not hinder it.This lack of training in emotional intelligence (Goleman, 1995) creates high stress conditions for most drivers.


It is common to relate aggressiveness to social and environmental factors, in addition to individual personality factors.For instance, congestion on highways and anonymity in cars interact with faulty attitudes and inadequate coping skills to produce aggressive traffic behavior under certain identifiable critical conditions.These apparent triggering conditions are accidental because they are unpredictable, and involve symbolic meaning for the dignity or self-worth of the interactants who may later report having felt insulted or threatened.It is part of popular psychology to call these provocative and dramatic conditions "triggers" as in, "It's not my fault. He provoked me.It's his fault. He made me do it."The trigger theory of anger serves to absolve the perpetrator from some or all of the responsibility for the aggression or violence.Here the attackers see themselves as the victims through a self-serving speech act (Searle, 1969) by which they escape culpability and opprobrium.It is common for road ragers to show no remorse for their assault and battery, seeing what they did as justified and deserved.


Road Rage and Aggressive Driving


For millions of people driving has become a health risk, an economic risk, and a daily hassle, if not tragedy.The highway environment has turned hostile and dangerous.Government regulation of traffic and transportation has vastly increased.A dozen states have passed aggressive driving bills that change what was merely a ticket and a check, to a misdemeanor or a felony, with mandatory classes in how to manage your traffic emotions.Law enforcement initiatives against aggressive drivers are called "aggressive initiatives" while federal agencies are promoting the use of integrated action between several forces, including helicopter support.Society's war on aggressive driving appears to be accelerating in the media and on the World Wide Web where numerous activist groups promote citizen involvement in monitoring and reporting the license plates of aggressive drivers.The appearance in this politicizing of aggressive driving is that aggressive drivers are a group of dangerous people like car thieves or bank robbers.But my research on what drivers think and feel behind the wheel convinces me that aggressive driving is a cultural norm, not a deviant behavior.We acquire these hostile driving norms in childhood as passengers and as adults, we practice the cultural habit and pass it on to our children.Individual differences remain so that the frequency and modality of expressing hostility is conditioned by social factors--gender, education, age, personality style, demeanor, or conduct.For instance, we would expect gender differences in driving aggressiveness to be consistent with cultural norms for violence in the family or workplace.Some relevant findings from a Web survey of 2010 respondents in 1988 (James, 1998).They were responding to itemized lists of driving behaviors often considered aggressive and illegal.By checking an item, the respondent was making a confession or a self-witnessing report "I sometimes engage in this behavior."By tabulating the results in terms of demographic variables, one can explore various cultural influences on specific forms of aggressive driving.


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† MEN†††††††††††††† WOMEN

      making illegal turns††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 18%††††††††††††††† 12%

      not signaling lane changes †††††††††††††††††††† 26%††††††††††††††† 20%

      following very close†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 15%††††††††††††††† 13%

      going through red lights ††††††††††††††† 9%†††††††††††††† 7%

      swearing, name calling ††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 59%††††††††††††† 57%

      speeding 15 to 25 mph †††††††††††††††† 46%††††††††††††† 32%

      yelling at another driver††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 34%††††††††††††††† 31%

      honking to protest†††††††††††††††††††††††††† 39%††††††††††††††† 36%

      revving engine to retaliate †††††††††††† 12% †††††††††††††† 8%

      making an insulting gesture†††††††††††††††††† 28%††††††††††††† 20%

      tailgating dangerously †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 14%††††††††††††††† 9%

      shining bright lights to retaliate††††††††††††††† 25%††††††††††††††† 13%

      braking suddenly to punish ††††††††††††††††††††† 35%††††††††††††† 29%

      deliberately cutting off†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 19%††††††††††††† 10%

      using car to block the way†††††††††††† 21%††††††††††††† 13%

      using car as weapon to attack †††††††††††††††† 4%††††††††††††††† 1%

      chasing a car in hot pursuit ††††††††††††††††††††† 15% †††††††††††††† 4%

      getting into a physical fight †††††††††††††††††††††† 4% ††††††††††††††† 1%


For each of these aggressive driving behavior, more men report doing it than women.The differences in percentage points are statistically significant for all items.These results confirm what earlier surveys have found, that men drive more aggressively than women and manifest road rage symptoms more regularly.However, popular surveys also show a growing number of women are engaging in aggressive driving behavior and are involved in a higher rate of non-fatal accidents than men (Woman Motorist, 1999).The greater aggressiveness of men drivers and the increasing aggressiveness of women drivers are cultural trends reflecting an expanding permissiveness towards the expression of anger behind the wheel.Some of the rise in women's aggressive driving is attributed to the increased presence of women in the workplace.There are 88 million licensed women drivers in the U.S. today.The proportion of women in the driver population rose from 43 percentin 1963 to 50 percent in 1999.More women are stuck in congested traffic, and more of the female gender experiences the stress and frustration men have endured for decades.Additionally, women have more stops to make while they cart children to school, sports, and lessons, as well as driving to work, running errands, shopping and banking.Women are forced to drive under time pressure during congestion.As a result, auto insurance rates for young women are now closer to that of inexperienced young men, who are still being charged 185 percent above the base rate.


Health professionals generally attribute part of the increase in driving "pugnacity" to social factors such as swelling congestion, urbanization, dual-income families, workplace downsizing that increases crowding, family discord, job dissatisfaction, and physical illness.The connection between stress and illness has long been established in medicine and new research shows that driving related stress is no different from life stress in the way it affects our health (APA Monitor, 1996).The overt expression of anger and hostile behavior is normally "inhibited" or kept under wraps because we are directly or indirectly punished for it in various ways.In the past decade, public schools have implemented conflict resolution or peer mediation programs designed to help children acquire the habit of resolving disagreements non-physically, non-violently (Goleman, 1995).The key element of this civilized conduct is the skill of inhibiting the physical expression of anger or fear, so it doesn't come out in provocative or violent behavior.When a neighbor encroaches upon your territory, normally you don't start shooting or suing.You first find out what's going on, why, and what you can do about it peacefully and lawfully, such as talking it over or lodging a complaint.This principle of non-aggressiveness has been thrown overboard by the culture of cynicism on highways.As educators and change agents, we must find ways to restore it.


Perhaps the biggest cause of unsafe highways is people's unwillingness to scrutinize their own conduct, preferring to blame other drivers.Surveys consistently show that most people have an inflated self-image of their motoring ability, rating the safety of their own driving as much better than the average motorist's.For instance, two out of three drivers (67 percent) rate themselves almost perfect in excellence as a driver (9 or 10 on a 10-point scale), while the rest consider themselves above average (6 to 8).Surveys typically show that 70 percent of drivers report being a victim of an aggressive driver, while only 30 percent admit to being aggressive drivers.This suggests that most drivers overlook their own faults and overestimate their competence.One way to examine this hypothesis is to compare the aggressiveness of the two-thirds majority of drivers who rate themselves as near perfect with the one-third minority that see themselves "above average, but with some room to improve."


The difference is dramatic!The drivers who considered themselves near perfect in excellence with no room for improvement, also confess to significantly more aggressiveness than drivers who see themselves still improving.This reveals the lack of objectivity in self-assessment shown by two out of three drivers.Despite their self-confessed aggressiveness, they still insist on thinking of themselves as near perfect drivers with almost no room to improve.This egocentric phenomenon can be seen in specific forms of aggressive behaviors.For example, those who see themselves as near perfect drivers, admit to twice as much chasing of other cars compared to those who see themselves as less perfect.The difference:15 percent vs. 8 percent is statistically significant.The fact is clear:part of being an aggressive driver is to deny that you need to improve.This is what I call resistance to change.


Why Prior Interventions Have Been Unsuccessful

in Reducing Dangerous Driver Behavior


In North America, cars have been mass produced for 103 years and there are now 177 million licensed drivers in the United States alone. Driving is the most dangerous activity for the majority of people in an industrialized society. Driving accidents have killed millions of people since 1900 and the number of deaths and injuries increase in proportion to the number of drivers and the total number of miles driven in an area or region. In North America, deaths and serious injuries from driving accidents were reduced as a result of these developments:


  1. more and better roads

thus, safer roads with better traction, visibility, and maintenance

  1. better designed cars

thus, cars equipped with better safety devices and crash proof designs that save lives—safety belt, air bag, child restraint car seat, shock absorption and controlled collapse, crash tests with dummies

  1. better medical emergency services and infrastructure on highways and streets

thus, more survivors after crashes

  1. better law enforcement

including, more personnel, use of electronic surveillance devices on highways and key intersections, new legislation to facilitate the conviction of guilty drivers, greater involvement of courts in remedial driver training for offenders

  1. mandated driver and safety education in schools

including graduated licensing and other special provisions for elderly and handicapped drivers

  1. more sophisticated transportation management systems

computer controlled traffic lights, traffic calming devices, re-routing schemes, HOV lanes, alternative transportation initiatives

  1. economic incentives for drivers who remain accident free

added insurance cost for accident prone drivers, increased incentives or insurance reductions for accident-free drivers, special benefits accruing to enrolling in refresher courses and other self-improvement activities

Itís important to note that despite these definite and significant improvements in the seven areas indicated, the rate of traffic deaths and injuries remains relatively constant when viewed over a long term perspective of years and decades. For instance, in the 1950s the annual fatality rate due to driving accidents was around 50,000 while in the 1990s it has been around 40,000. Yes, there is a reduction, but the curve has quickly leveled off and remains above 40,000 deaths and over 5 million injuries annually in the U.S. There seem to be two opposing forces operating.


On the one hand, the external environmental forces for greater safety (less risk):

      The construction of more and better highways to accommodate the increasing numbers of drivers every year

      The design of better and safer vehicles

      A more efficient medical infrastructure to handle victims of crashes

      Greater use of highway law enforcement and electronic surveillance as deterrents


And on the other hand, the internal individual forces for maintaining high risk (less safety):

      The widespread acceptance of a competitive norm that values getting ahead of other drivers

      The daily round schedule of time pressure and its mismanagement through rushing and disobeying traffic laws

      The weakness of driver education programs so that most drivers have inadequate training in emotional self-control as drivers

      The media portrayal of aggressive driving behaviors in a fun context

      The psychological tendency to maintain a preferred level of risk, so that increased risks are taken when environmental improvements are introduced (also called "risk homeostasis", see Wilde, 1994; 1988)


Scientists and safety officials attribute this resistance to accident reduction to the attitude and behavior of drivers who tend to respond to safety improvements by driving more dangerously. It has been noted that a critical aspect of driving is the driverís competence in balancing risk with safety. The risk in driving is largely under the control of the driver. The driver decides at every moment what risks to take and what to inhibit or avoid. Risk taking is a tendency that varies greatly between drivers as well as for the same driver at different times. Thus, if a road is made safer by straightening it, or by moving objects that interfere with visibility, drivers will compensate for the greater safety by driving faster on it—the so-called "risk homeostasis" phenomenon. The result is the maintenance of a constant subjective feeling of risk that is the normal habitual threshold for a particular driver. In such a driving environment, the rate of deaths or injuries tends to remain high, despite the safety improvements that are introduced.


The institutional or societal response to this stalemate between safety and risk tolerance, has been to increase enforcement activities by monitoring, ticketing, and jailing hundreds of thousands of drivers. Nevertheless, the number of deaths and injuries has remained nearly steady, year after year. Besides law enforcement, there has been an increase in litigation due to aggressive driving disputes between drivers, as well as more psychotherapy and counseling services, including anger management clinics and workshops, and community initiatives. Nevertheless, these remain scattered attempts, and have been unable to alter basic driving patterns.As detailed in this chapter, socio-cultural methods need to be used to change the driving norms of an entire generation.


From Traffic Safety to Driving Psychology


Driver education and training continue to focus on imparting a minimum knowledge of safety principles and of vehicle operation and manipulation.Courses and manuals generally include a brief section on "driver attitude" and "driver error" and this practice constitutes an acknowledgment that personality habits of the driver ought to be addressed in the instructional process.My research efforts have addressed this behavioral component, and to allow specific recognition of this subject in driver education and training, I have proposed the phrase "driving psychology" to represent this new driver instruction area.Driving psychology refers to the knowledge drivers need to cumulate throughout their career as driver--between six and seven decades for most people in North America.This knowledge is thus focused on self-instructional methods as reflected by the new paradigm called "Lifelong Driver Self-Improvement Program" consisting of a K through 12 driving psychology curriculum followed by lifelong membership in a QDC (Quality Driving Circle) (James and Nahl, 2000).


Driving psychology is a behavioral engineering tool.Research in driving psychology uses the self-witnessing approach, which is a method of generating objective data on oneself as a driver (James, 1996).The driver operates in three separate but interacting behavioral areas known as affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor.In other words, it takes the motive of a goal destination (affective domain) to keep the car moving, as well as a variety of related motives (affective) such as the desire (affective) to avoid a collision or the emotion of anger (affective) at another driver.Besides this, it takes knowledge (cognitive domain) of vehicle operation and traffic regulations to get through, besides making judgments (cognitive) about what other motorists are likely to do or not to do.And finally, it also takes the coordinated execution or performance (sensorimotor domain) of movements in appropriate response to the motive and the judgment.These three behavioral domains jointly and interactively constitute driving or traffic behavior.My proposal for Lifelong Driver Self-Improvement Training has the purpose of empowering drivers to take charge of their habit structures in these three behavioral areas.


The new driving psychology and the older traffic psychology represent distinct paradigms to the study of driver behavior, as was anticipated by the distinction between input-output relations and those involving internal states (Michon, 1985). Input-output models use taxonomies or inventories based on task analyses, as well as functional control models of a mechanistic nature. Internal state models use trait analyses of drivers and their motivational-cognitive context. Michon (1985, p. 490) considers the input-output models as "behavioral" while the internal states models are termed "psychological." However, driving psychology views the affective and cognitive areas as equally behavioral to the sensorimotor. Inventories of driver tasks have so far been based on external or public observation and description of driving performance (McKnight and Adams, 1970). The self-witnessing approach is a way of obtaining internal behavioral data, sometimes called "private data."


Driving psychology is the study of the social-psychological forces that act upon drivers in traffic. Situations are analyzed through external as well as internal methods of data gathering. For example, in one study the aggressiveness of drivers was measured in terms of observed rate of speed reduction, or the making of some hostile gesture at pedestrians in a marked crosswalk. It was found that aggressiveness of both men and women drivers was higher against men pedestrians than women pedestrians. This is an instance of the external analysis of driver behavior. In another study, drivers spoke their thoughts out loud into a tape recorder giving their perceptions and reactions to traffic events and incidents. It was found that the average trip from home and work is filled with many incidents that arouse feelings of hostility and thoughts of mental violence (James, 1987). This is an instance of the driver's internal behavior. An approach that involves both internal and external analyses consists of interviewing drivers about their driving, either "in depth" or on a questionnaire, and relating it to their self-witnessing records. One may also have observers independently make observations of drivers who are making self-witnessing tapes, which also allows the correlation or concurrence of external and internal data.


Personality and character are related to a driver's style of coping with traffic stress. Acts, thoughts, and feelings in driving interact in an integrated system. A driving trip typically involves the presence of a dominant motive such as the feeling of being in a rush, or the desire to outplay other drivers by getting ahead of them. The dominant motive (affective domain) is a character tendency that expresses itself in other settings as well. For example, a person may experience hostile thoughts (cognitive behavior) towards others wherever competition is at work, whether a bank line, a restaurant, or switching traffic lanes (sensorimotor domain). Data on the private world of drivers show that frustration begets anger, which leads to feelings of hostility that are elaborated in mental violence and ridicule, and finally acted out in aggressive behavior.It is evident that the aggressive behavior is an outward consequence of an inner interplay between the negative feeling and its conscious justification or condoning.This threefold aspect of driving behavior is at the center of driving psychology.


The topics of driving psychology often overlap with traffic psychology or applied psychology, but the method of generating the data are distinctive.One example is the study of risk taking in driving (Wilde, 1994). Few traffic situations are without risk. Drivers are constantly involved with this risk. Incidents occur all the time and the threat involved is experienced as stress. Reduction of traffic stress is a major concern for both driving psychology and applied traffic psychology. In the old paradigm methods include extending traffic safety education to children, providing driver education for adolescents, and continuing driver education for adults through courses, legislation, and public media campaigns. Driving psychology adds a new major component to these methods, namely the idea that driver training is lifelong self-training, and that it involves training our emotional habits in traffic, our thinking habits behind the wheel, and our style or overt actions for which we are legally and socially responsible.


Driver Self-Witnessing


Educators and test makers have used the thinking out loud verbalizations of college students to study their problem solving abilities (Bloom, 1956). Meichenbaum and Goodman (1979) and Watson and Tharp (1985) have made use of silent verbalizations in the form of self-regulatory sentences that mediate and control the overt performance of students and clients in need of greater self-control of their behavior in many areas (Luria, 1961). Abelson (1981) has proposed script analysis as a method of reconstructing the cognitive activities that underlie routine behaviors such as ordering food in a restaurant.Ericsson and Simon (1984) have described their extensive attempts in protocol analysis which involves the tape recording of a subject's thinking aloud routine while engaged in problem solving activity of specific tasks (e.g., solving a chess problem).This work allowed Simon to create the first chess playing computer program by rendering each thinking sequence into a program line.More recently, the MIT media lab is known to be creating computers that not only model human cognitive processes but affective as well (Picard, 1997). These research and clinical efforts represent significant advances in the scientific study of the private world of individuals. The self-witnessing technique I developed is an attempt to obtain reliable data on the ongoing events in the private world of drivers. This psychological aspect of driving has not received attention in the extensive literature of driving or auto safety. The method was also used in the analysis of self-witnessing reports written by students while engaged in doing library research or using Web search engines (Nahl, 1998; 1997; Nahl and James, 1996).


The self-witnessing method is readily meaningful to people since they are routinely expected in their daily lives as part of being ordinary humans or citizens, to be able to report on their own activities (What did you do?Who was there? etc.) and mental focus (What did you think?What did you feel? etc.).Drivers readily discuss many aspects of their driving behavior, external and internal. For example, when people are asked to write an introduction about themselves as drivers, they spontaneously mention various aspects about themselves such as how long they have been driving; what kind of cars they can drive (gear shift or automatic); how driving affects everyday life (its costs, dangers, frustrations, stress); what images they project as a driver (power, status, lifestyle); whether they consider themselves to be a good or bad driver; how they react to common driving situations; how their mood changes as a result of driving episodes; how the traffic went on a particular trip; their driving record (traffic tickets, accidents, near misses); and some others. These are thus dimensions of discrimination along which drivers spontaneously monitor themselves, or have the conviction that they monitor themselves. These beliefs may be called the driver's self-image, or the reputation of oneself as a driver.There is a lot of protective territoriality or face work defensiveness associated with these beliefs about oneself.


Interviews with drivers, or written self-assessment scales filled out by drivers, yield retrospective data in which the respondents' recollection of facts is mixed with their self-image as drivers. By contrast, self-witnessing reports yield data that are not retrospective but on-going or concurrent.The driver behind the wheel speaks out loud into a recorder at the very moment that the emotions, thoughts, perceptions, and actions arise spontaneously and concurrently with the act of driving. Later analysis of the tape and transcript displays in concrete and visible terms, the overt expressions of feelings, thoughts, and perceptions that accompanied a particular driving episode.This method does not claim to obtain a complete and accurate "online transaction log" of the driver's affective states and cognitive processes, but only a sample of these.The adequacy of the sample needs to be evaluated theoretically and practically. The initial effort in driving psychology has been the attempt to develop a taxonomy of driving behavior so that there might be a theoretically justified classification system capable of listing driver behaviors in the three domains and at relative levels of attainment or development.

The Driver's Threefold Self--Affective, Cognitive, Sensorimotor


In its modern version, behaviorism is committed to a unified theory that tries to deal with external and internal aspects of the self (Staats, 1975; Mischel, 1991). For instance, the concept of personality is defined in terms of built-up repertoires of basic habits. These are actually skills and errors that can be modified through further learning. This acquisition process is going on in three distinct domains of the person's activity: affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor.All skills at any level of expertise contain affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor features.The following transcript segment from a driver's taped self-witnessing record illustrates the threefold nature of driving behavior.


"Oh, no, there's a police car coming up from behind. I hope he didn't see me driving fast. Besides, I'm not the only one who is driving fast. If he pulls me over to the side, he has to pull everyone else over too. I'll be so embarrassed if he pulls me over. Everyone will know that I was breaking the law."


Content analysis focuses on the "speech act" value of the components of verbalizations (Searle, 1969; Nahl, 1993). For instance, "Oh, no" marks an affective stricture or a perception of doom; and indexes an emotional flooding-out. "I hope" marks a religious affection or an idealized picture of reality. "Besides, I'm not the only one" bespeaks guilt and self-justification; it raises the specter of personal catastrophe expressed in "I'll be so embarrassed... Everyone will know..." A little later this subject displays affections of condemnation or disapproval when another car cut in front: "Careless and pushy drivers always do things like that." In another episode, this person expresses anxiety and fear: "I almost sideswiped a car which had been traveling in my blind spot. As I was turning back into the middle lane I was in a state of mild anxiety. Thinking about what could've happened made me scared." Thus, expressing fear in a driving incident or, showing disapproval of another driver, are instances of affective driving behavior.An individual's internal dialog can be used as an index of the affective states and the cognitive processes that constitute the internal component of any outward behavior.


"I should cut down on how fast I'm driving and maintain the required speed limit. I'm in the middle lane and yet I'm driving like an aggressive person in the left lane. I could be increasing my chance of becoming a victim on the road. If the police pulls me over and gives me a ticket it's nobody else's fault but my own. I should follow the rules. I don't want others to get a bad impression of me and think that I'm a speed demon."


Reasoning about propriety is evident in "I should maintain the proper speed limit" and "I'm driving like an aggressive person" which also indicates self-evaluation ("aggressive"). Propriety as well as morality scales are involved in the driver's reasonings regarding the self-attribution of error. ("It's nobody else's fault but my own"), while the entry "I don't want others to get a bad impression of me" reveals this person's image management techniques.In the following entry the driver seems to be overwhelmed with the reasoned consequences of his action:


"I'm thinking to myself I could have killed the guy back there. I'm so careless. He must be swearing at me and saying what an idiot I am. I could've smashed up my brother's car."


Note that this self-analysis includes imagining what the others are thinking, feeling, or saying ("He must be swearing...").Witnessing and describing one's reasoning about a driving situation, or attributing an error to oneself, provide data on the driver's cognitive behavior.In the next segment the driver is giving some details on sensorimotor behavior, including the sensation of getting warmer.


"I'll drive at the required speed limit and get to my destination safely. I'm leaning slightly forward in my seat rather than my normal slightly reclined position. I have both hands on the steering wheel rather than my normal one hand. And I can feel my temperature rising.My stomach feels queasy."


Some of this sensory or motor information might be available to special instrumentation, a well-placed camera, or an observer riding along ("I am leaning slightly forward in my seat"), but the meaning of this act would remain obscure without the concurrent self-witnessing report ("rather than my normal slightly reclined position"--indicating a perception of abnormalcy in the sensation) or would require enormously sophisticated instrumentation ("My stomach feels queasy").Witnessing and describing sensations or motor actions provide data on the driver's sensorimotor behavior.


The Mental Health Of Drivers


My cumulative research using the self-witnessing reports of hundreds of drivers, reveals an agitated inner world of driving that is replete with extreme emotions and impulses seemingly triggered by little acts. Ordinary drivers can display maniacal thoughts, violent feelings, virulent speech, and physiological signs of high stress.


"Right now I feel scared, anxious, fearful, panic stricken, agitated, bothered, irritated, annoyed, angry, mad. I feel like yelling and hitting. I'm thinking, Oh, no what's he doing. What's happening. How could he do that. and I hear myself saying out loud, @#$%Stupid guy!I'm breathing fast, gripping the wheel, perspiring, sitting up straight and slightly forward, my eyes are open and watching straight ahead."


This incident involved a car cutting into the lane and forcing the driver to slam on the brakes causing a chain reaction; however, no collision occurred.The self-witnessing reports of drivers routinely contain scary incidents of this sort in which near misses occur. Hence it has become normal and usual for drivers to experience stress and panic under everyday traffic conditions.The following is a summary of the variety of negative reactions routinely mentioned in driver self-witnessing reports.


Extreme Physiological Reactions:

heart pounding, momentary stopping of breathing, muscle spasms, stomach cramps, wet hands, pallor, faintness, trembling, nausea, discoordination, inhibition, visual fixation, facial distortion, back pain, neck cramp.

Extreme Emotional Reactions:

outbursts of anger, yelling, aggressive gestures, looking mean and glaring, threatening with dangerous vehicle manipulation, fantasies of violence and revenge, panic, incapacitation, distortion, regressive rigid pattern of behavior, fear, anxiety, delusional talk against non-present drivers and objects.

Extreme Irrational Thought Sequences:

paranoic thinking that one is being followed or inspected, addressing other drivers who are not within ear shot, script writing scenarios involving vengeance and cruelty against "guilty" drivers, denial of reality and defensiveness when a passenger complains of a driver's error, psychopathic interactions as when two drivers alternately tailgate each other dangerously at high speed.


These findings raise an important public issue: What is the mental health of the nearly two hundred million licensed drivers in North America? Demographic sampling research with the self-witnessing method is needed to assess the generality of my early findings. We need to create behavioral maps of drivers under varying social and psychological conditions in order to construct a comprehensive theory of driving behavior within the language of drivers, not the language of scientists.Managing the future of driving in our society requires a knowledge of driving psychology because it provides the content needed by instructors, safety officials, law enforcement, and all regulatory agencies in society that administer roads, cars, and drivers.I use the phrase "driving informatics" (Nahl, 1999) to cover the entirety of information sources society now needs to manage its expanding driving and automotive environment.


To supply the information needed for driving informatics, future research may investigate the conditions which foster the greater internalization of compliance in driving behavior. This may be done by having drivers give self-witnessing reports under various independently manipulated situations, such as:

      driving in the right lane vs. the left lane

      driving to work regularly (going with the traffic) vs. by watching the speedometer and staying within posted speed limits

      driving alone vs. driving with one or more friends

      driving in heavy traffic vs. light traffic

      driving while in a hurry after a quarrel with someone vs. other mental states

      driving on specific roads, days, and times contrasted

      driving contrasted by demographic variables (age, experience, gender, religion, political views, geographic location, education, vehicle driven)

      driving contrasted by individual variables (experience, training, driving record, personality characteristics)

      and so on.

These independently manipulated environmental and experiential contrasts will reveal how a driver's feelings, thoughts, perceptions, verbalizations, and actions (the dependent conditions or variables) are influenced by highway conditions such as traffic density or driver aggressiveness, or by mental states such as "when the driver feels pressured" vs. "when the driver feels happy" (the independent conditions or variables). Staats (1996) has explicitly recognized the possibility of designing experiments in which affective and cognitive states are manipulated as independent variables to study their effects on other cognitive-affective behaviors as dependent variables.In one project, I compared the self-witnessing reports of students in which the intervention treatment (or independent manipulation) was to drive within speed limits for one week. The dependent measures were self-witnessing reports for the affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor domains of their driving behavior (threefold self). During the week of self-imposed driving within speed limits, students commonly reported extreme paranoic feelings and thoughts (e.g., "Everybody is giving me the stink eye for holding them up. They are going to attack me, ram me off the road") -- which did not appear in the baseline records while the students were driving regularly (by keeping up with traffic). This type of baseline-intervention design is quite flexible and productive when coupled with random assignment of subjects to predefined conditions to allow for statistical tests of significance.

Taxonomy of Driving Behavior


The development of a comprehensive driving theory based on self-witnessing reports makes it possible to construct a classification scheme or taxonomy that can help identify the components of driver behavior from the perspective of the driver's world. Such an inventory may be useful for driver assessment and driver education and can provide norms or expectations of driving skills and errors in the affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor domains of behavior. For instance, a driver's self-witnessing report may be analyzed by counting the presence of affective errors (e.g., "I was so mad I didn't care if I was going to hit him or not!"), cognitive errors (e.g., "I figured there is no speed limit in this parking lot cause I don't remember seeing any speed limit signs here."), and sensorimotor errors (e.g., "I lowered my window and yelled at him, 'You stupid idiot.'"). A driver's error score can be obtained to evaluate the effect of various intervention programs for driver self-improvement. Or, error patterns may be correlated with demographic or psychological characteristics of drivers (e.g., men vs. women, or contrasting age groups). These types of data are valuable for efforts in the modeling of driver behavior, especially those involving higher control mechanisms which include motivational and trait related aspects (Picard, 1997). As Michon (1985, p.488) has argued, driver research should go cognitive (and I would add, affective) since human mobility is embedded in a psycho-social environment as well as a technological one. Feelings, thoughts, and perceptions are as much traffic and transportation issues as road conditions and traffic flow.


Table 1Driver Behavior as Skills and Errors in Three Behavioral Domains






I've got to be careful here. Don't want to cut anybody off.

This person looks like he's in a hurry to get in. I better let him in.

(Gesticulating and smiling:)Go ahead. You go first.





I wish I could give that guy a piece of my mind.

I don't think people like that should be allowed on the road

(Yelling:) "You stupid idiot, why don't you watch where you're going!"


Table 1 shows the first iteration of the taxonomy in its general form and structure.Driving behavior is represented as a collection of skills and errors within the three behavioral domains of the self.The skills receive a + symbol and the errors a - symbol.Entries within each behavioral area are self-witnessing units culled or isolated from the driver's self-report.Categorization of an item is a matter of common sense, following speech act rules known by ordinary speakers (Searle, 1969).I have encountered no drivers who were unable to report their emotions, thoughts, and actions in traffic.Yet there are individual differences I observed in detail, focus, comprehensiveness, and clarity.Future research should investigate the self-witnessing data generated by drivers in terms of these variables.As driver self-witnessing becomes a generational norm and cultural practice for all drivers, the richness and depth of the accumulating data will increase, giving us the ability to construct even better driving theories and self-training procedures.


The second iteration of the taxonomy introduces three levels of development or driver competence (1, 2, 3) within the three behavioral domains (A, C, S) and the two skill orientations (+ vs. -).Three behavioral domains by three developmental levels yields a matrix of nine zones of possible driver behaviors.Adding a + or - orientation yields a total of 18 behavioral zones.The numbering scheme in the taxonomy follows the pattern shown in Table 2.


Table 2. Classification Scheme for the Taxonomy of Driver Behavior


Level 3



+A3 = 7
-A3 = 16


+C3 = 8
-C3 = 17


+S3 = 9
-S3 = 18

Level 2



+A2 = 4
-A2 = 13


+C2 = 5
-C2 = 14


+S3 = 6
-S3 = 15

Level 1



+A1 = 1
-A1 = 10


+C1 = 2
-C1 = 11


+S1 = 3
-S1 = 12


I like to represent the taxonomy from bottom up to indicate that habits are built on top of habits, and the higher habits are acquired later in experience, but once established, they exert a causative (downward) influence on the lower habits.The three domains at Level 1 occupy Zones 1, 2, and 3, respectively, in relation to skills, and Zones 10, 11, and 12, for errors.Similarly for Levels 2 and 3.The Zones 1 through 9 represent skills, and their corresponding errors populate zones 10 through 18.The labeling of the three levels should be considered as part of the theory and as research continues, evidence will evolve to allow more accurate representations of each level.For now, I present this iteration as the results of my studies thus far.Level 1 driving behavior is labeled "Proficiency" to represent the new driver's initial overriding focus on three things:staying calm and alert (affective proficiency), figuring out what happens around you (cognitive proficiency), and coordinating the eyes, hands, and legs to keep the vehicle from colliding (sensorimotor proficiency).Level 2 is labeled "Safety" to represent the motive to avoid getting into trouble (affective safety), in conjunction with the problem-solving process of identifying trouble spots (cognitive safety), and leading to prudent actions (sensorimotor safety).Level 3 is labeled "Responsibility" to represent the motive to remain accountable for hurting others (affective responsibility), which creates prosocial rather than antisocial thought sequences and plans (cognitive responsibility) that eventuate in the quality of driving life, whether happy or stressed out (sensorimotor responsibility).The full taxonomy is shown in Table 3.


Table 3.The 18 Behavioral Zones of Driving


Affective Responsibility
in Driving
A3 (+ or -)


Cognitive Responsibility
in Driving
C3 (+ or -)

sensorimotor Responsibility
in Driving
S3 (+ or -)


(7)altruism and morality

(16) egotism and deficient conscience


(8)positive dramatizations and mental health

(17)negative dramatizations and insanity


(9)enjoyment and satisfaction

(18) stress and depression



Affective Safety
in Driving
A2 (+ or -)


Cognitive Safety
in Driving
C2 (+ or -)


Sensorimotor Safety
in Driving
S2 (+ or -)


(4) defensive driving and equity
(13) aggressiveness opportunism



(5)objective attributions
(14) biased attributions



(6) polite exchanges and calmness
(15) rude exchanges and overreaction


Affective Proficiency
in Driving
A1 (+ or -)

Cognitive Proficiency
in Driving
C1 (+ or -)

Sensorimotor Proficiency
in Driving
S1(+ or -)

(1) respect for regulations and self-control
(10) disrespect for authority and deficient self-control


(2) knowledge and awareness

(11) untrained and faulty thinking



(3) correct actions and alertness

(12) faulty actions and inattention




The labeling of each behavioral zone is part of the theory and will need additional confirmation by more extensive research than what I have been able to do so far.To clarify the theory further, I present in Appendix A several entries for each of the 18 zones.For example, zone 1 Affective Proficiency (A1) has a skill item "Having a sense of respect for traffic regulations and authority." (Zone +A1), while the corresponding error item is "Feeling dislike for traffic regulations or authority figures" (Zone -A1).Similarly, zone 8 Cognitive Responsibility (C3) has a skill item "De-dramatizing or neutralizing one's negative feelings in a driving situation" (Zone +C3), while the corresponding error item is "Attaching preposterous symbolic significance to driving exchanges (e.g., being overtaken is reprehensible)." (Zone -C3)Every behavioral skill zone has a corresponding error zone.A driver may be represented as a collection of skills and errors, each of which is a habit that can be witnessed in oneself, and modified with appropriate habit modification procedures.This process of habit self-modification going on simultaneously in each of the 18 zones is what I call Lifelong Driver Self-Improvement Program.Therefore the QDC curriculum is based on self-witnessing activities in the 18 zones. For more explanations see this related article.


An illustration of how the Driver Taxonomy can be used for planning and monitoring self-improvement activities is shown in Table 4.I call this type of radical overhaul in old habit structures, a driving personality makeover.This driver used the taxonomy to map out a self-modification plan that wisely contained two stages. First, to do what it takes to avoid being an aggressive driver.Second, to do what it takes to become the opposite of an aggressive driver, namely a supportive driver.He decided to list for himself the behavioral objectives in the three domains, without keeping track of the level.He correctly decided that the first step is affective, in this case, to "overcome his resistance to change" and picked several affective objectives that counteract his habitual aggressive driving motives and tap into his higher value system, which he believed he had in reserve.Under the prodding of this new motive, he picked several cognitive objectives that gave him practice in counteracting his lack of objectivity when thinking about driving situations in which was involved.Finally, the new motive through the new reasoning process, must actualize in civil behavior, or else it is only an imagined change.So he had to pick relevant sensorimotor objectives to actualize the new persona.This he did as shown in Table 4.


Table 4.Two Stages of a Driving Personality Makeover Plan


Stage 1--Avoiding Being an Aggressive Driver

Affective Level
Overcoming my resistance to change


Cognitive Level
Learning to do rational analyses of traffic incidents


Sensorimotor Level
Acting out civil behavior




      committing myself to inhibit or mitigate states of anger and retaliation

      making it acceptable for passenger to complain or make suggestions

      making it unacceptable for myself to ridicule or demean other drivers

      activating higher motives within myself such as love of order and fair play, public spiritedness, charity, kindness to strangers


      reasoning against my attribution errors (It's always their fault.It's never my fault)

      counteracting my self-serving bias in how I view incidents

      acquiring more socialized self-regulatory sentences I can say to myself


      waving, smiling, signaling

      not crowding, not rushing in, not swearing

      not aggressing against passengers

      pretending that I'm in a good mood even when not




Stage 2--Becoming a Supportive Driver
(presumes or contains stage 1)

Affective Level
Maintaining a supportive orientation towards other drivers


Cognitive Level
Analyzing driving situations objectively

Sensorimotor Level
Behaving like a happy


      feeling responsible for errors and seeking opportunities to make reparations

      feeling regret at my unfriendly behaviors and impulses

      feeling good about behaving with civility or kindness

      feeling appreciation when being given advice by passenger

      being forgiving of others' mistakes and weaknesses

      acknowledging and knowing my driving errors

      planning and rehearsing the modification of those habits

      analyzing other drivers' behaviors objectively or impartially



      anticipating the needs of other drivers and being helpful to them

      verbalizing nice sentiments

      enjoying the ride and relaxing






The second stage is the mature stage because what he had to "force himself" to avoid doing in stage 1, he now enjoyed doing in stage 2.This is truly a changeover.The supportive orientation involves a prosocial driving persona that is balanced and objective in thinking, and non-competitive and helpful in behaving.It is associated with a maximum of safety and a minimum of stress while restoring the sense of fun and enjoyment to driving.Once such a plan is drawn up, which can only be done with self-study or instruction and counseling, its execution involves a strategy I call "the Threestep Program."Each item on the self-modification plan is practiced one at a time per driving trip.


      First step:Acknowledging that I have this particular negative habit. (A)

      Second step:Witnessing myself performing this negative habit. (W)

      Third step:Modifying this habit. (M)


For example, having picked the item "feeling regret at my unfriendly behaviors and impulses" for today's trip to work on, constitutes step 1, because selecting it is an act of acknowledgment.Then, the driver has to witness this behavior during the trip.In other words, he stays alert, maintaining focus on his emotions as he drives.As soon as he detects the presence of hostile feelings, he follows it up with sentiments of regret.The normal habit would be to give in to the initial hostile impulse, to magnify it, to rehearse it several times.All these habitual procedures are now interfered with and interrupted by means of the sentiments of regret introjected into the event in accordance with the plan.This constitutes the modification.When the threestep process is practiced on repeated trips, the old habit sequence gradually weakens and is replaced by a new positive habit sequence.The cyclical process is repeated item by item.It is apparent from this why driver self-improvement needs to go on a lifelong basis, and why social methods of motivation like QDC groups, are needed to help drivers to persist in it and not give up.


Summary of Current Applications


  1. Encouraging drivers to practice self-witnessing behind the wheel (self-observation and self-monitoring record keeping using a variety of tools such as Data Forms, Trip Logs, tape recordings, etc.)


  1. Teaching drivers how to apply self-modification principles (Baseline/Intervention techniques by drivers)


  1. Teaching the Threestep Program for driving personality makeovers


  1. Encouraging drivers to maintain a Driving Log as way of promoting their long term involvement with self-improvement


  1. Promoting Partnership Driving arrangements to encourage friends or co-workers to assist drivers in self-improvement efforts


  1. Promoting Quality Driving Circles (QDCs) as a socio-cultural method for building up the motivation of drivers to practice lifelong self-modification activities.

      This includes a national or regional program of incentives, awards, and benefits for drivers who maintain their QDC activities.

      It also includes providing guidance through instructional materials such as TEE Cards, Keeping Track Forms, Logs or Schedules that assist individuals in their driving exercises.

      These Forms may also be made available anonymously to scientists who can use them as a continuous source of data for studying driver behavior on a long term basis. This type of research will assist government officials and agencies to continue the effective management of driving on a permanent basis.


  1. Increasing peopleís awareness and focusing public attention on the social implications of car society, car talk, car attitudes and behaviors, through content analysis of

      Accounts (or stories) drivers give when telling what happened

      Messages drivers write in electronic discussion groups

      Newspaper accounts of driving incidents and duels

      Public or media portrayals of drivers and driving (including books and advertisings)

      Other sources that access the thoughts and feelings of people about driving


Analysis of Internet Newsgroups about driving and cars with participants from North America, Britain, Australia, and Singapore, has shown that aggressive and hostile attitudes among drivers is universal and transcends ethnic background (James, 2000).The psychological mechanisms that justify this hostility may vary from culture to culture. It is necessary therefore to develop culture-specific methods of social influence to bring about a change in norms of competition and hostility.

  1. Building inventories and taxonomies of affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor driving behaviors to guide scientists and safety officials, and to help define the content of public instruction and other educational materials for self-improvement efforts. Current inventories of driving behaviors in North America have been obtained through various methods, including:

      surveys or polls using driver behavior check lists (James, 1998)

      content analysis of driving accounts (personal stories and media reports) (James and Nahl, 2000)

      protocol analysis of transcripts of tape recordings made by drivers behind the wheel (self-witnessing method) (James, 1987)

      observations made by passengers and pedestrians

      data gathered with specially equipped research vehicles

      data gathered from driving simulators


  1. Supporting and promoting civic activism and social organizations that focus on driving and the car culture, e.g.,

      groups focusing on aggressive driving prevention for children

      groups identifying themselves as citizens against drunk driving or speeding

      designated driver programs to fight alcohol related driving fatalities

      youth against road rage organizations (James, 1998)

      public procedures for recognizing driver excellence (awards, certificates, nominations)

      creating and supporting positive driving roles and heroes (e.g., DrDriving—the Musical, and other culturally integrated symbols of collectivist driving through music, drama, and dance)

      providing racing parkways and off road driving in reserved areas to provide more acceptable alternatives to speeding and rough driving enthusiasts


10   .Providing access to Driving Informatics facilities to satisfy peopleís driving information needs (Nahl, 1999):

      Driving self-improvement workbooks and curricula

      Standard QDC Curriculum (Quality Driving Circles)

      Accident recovery support organizations

      Automotive needs (maintenance, repair, sales)

      Travel information (including maps, weather, and traffic)

      Insurance and legal

      Training and Licensing

      Aggressive driving prevention for children (James and Nahl, 1998)

      Civic organizations (traffic control, safety education, impaired driving, legislation)

      Car culture and history

      World Wide Web activities (driving sites, newsgroups, organizations, conferences, initiatives, news)



Basic Principles in Driving Psychology


These can be stated as follows:

  1. Driving is a complex of behaviors acting together as cultural norms.


  1. Driving norms exist in three domains: affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor.


  1. Driving norms are transmitted by parents, other adults, books, movies, TV.


  1. The primary affective driving norms for this generation are:

      valuing territoriality, dominance, and competition as a desirable driving style

      condoning intolerance of diversity (in needs and competencies of other drivers)

      supporting retribution ethics (or vigilante motives with desire to punish or amend)

      social acceptance of impulsivity and risk taking in driving

      condoning aggressiveness, disrespect, and the expression of hostility

       These affective norms are negative and anti-social. Socio-cultural methods must be used to reduce the attractiveness of these aggressive norms and to increase the attractiveness of positive and cooperative driver roles.


  1. The primary cognitive driving norms are:

      inaccurate risk assessment

      biased and self-serving explanations of driving incidents

      lack of emotional intelligence as a driver

      low or underdeveloped level of moral involvement (dissociation and egotism)

       These cognitive norms are inaccurate and inadequate. Self-training and self-improvement techniques must be taught so that drivers can better manage risk and regulate their own emotional behavior.


  1. The primary sensorimotor driving norms are:

      automatized habits (un-self-conscious or unaware of oneís style and risk)

      errors of perception (e.g., distance, speed, initiating wrong action)

      lapses (in oneís attention or performance due to fatigue, sleepiness, drugs, boredom, inadequate training or preparation)

       These sensorimotor norms are inadequate and immature. Lifelong driver self-improvement exercises are necessary to reach more competent habits of driving.


  1. Driving norms and behavior can be changed by socio-cultural management techniques that create in the driver a desire for change, by weakening negative norms and strengthening positive norms of driving.Since driving is a habit in three domains of behavior, driving self-improvement is possible and effective in improving this habit. Specific elements in each domains must be addressed in recognition of the fact that driving consists of thousands of individual habits or skills, each of which can be identified, tested, and improved, on a long term basis.


  1. Drivers maintain strong resistance to externally imposed restrictions and regulations so that these methods alone are not sufficient to create real changes in driver behavior. Socio-cultural methods of influence need to be used, such as QDCs (Quality Driving Circles).Driving Psychology uses socio-cultural methods that act as change agents. Group dynamic forces are powerful influencing agents that can overcome driversí resistance to change. This is achieved by group activities that focus on this resistance in an explicit way, and afterwards, are put into conscious practice through follow up self-witnessing activities behind the wheel. These informal groups are called QDCs (Quality Driving Circles) and their function is to exert a long term or permanent socio-moral influence on the driving quality of its members. This positive influence is exerted by members on each other when they adhere to a Standard QDC Curriculum, as approved by designated safety officials or agencies on a regional or national basis. The QDC Curriculum is created through the principles of driving psychology.


  1. Driving is a semi-conscious activity since much of it depends on automatized habits acquired through culture and experience over several years. Thus, the driverís self-assessment is not objective or accurate, until trained in objective self-assessment procedures.


  1. Driving inherently involves taking risks, making errors, and losing emotional self-control. Thus, drivers need to be trained in risk taking, error recovery, and emotional control under emergency or provocation conditions.


  1. Obtaining a driverís license cannot be considered the end of driver training. Continued driver training in the form of guided lifelong self-improvement activities is essential for acquiring new skills. These new skills are needed as driving gets more complex with technology such as managing car audio devices , reading maps on screens , using computers , note taking , talking on phone or radio , keeping to a schedule , eating, etc.The Standard QDC Curriculum (Quality Driving Circles) needs to be kept up-dated continuously and the latest additions are to be made available to all functioning QDCs in a region. These up-dates are to focus on new developments that technology brings to vehicles and roads, all of which require the acquisition of new skills by drivers.


Applied Programs and Techniques


Driving Psychology is an applied field that creates a popular language of behavioral thinking about driving as a societal issue. This issue is complex and overlaps with technical and non-technical intellectual environments. The language and ideas in driving psychology are scientifically sound and accurate. However, it is not a basic science like psychology and does not follow its rigor in application. The theory and concepts of driving psychology can freely be borrowed from existing fields of study:

      social psychology (e.g., schemas, scripts, attribution error, territoriality, etc.)

      developmental psychology (e.g., stages of moral development, moral IQ, etc.)

      health psychology (e.g., resistance to compliance, addictive behaviors, lifestyle management)

      applied psychology (e.g., driving behavioral, risk homeostasis, ergonomics of errors, etc.)

      traffic psychology (driver management, pedestrian behavior, traffic safety education, etc.)

      clinical psychology (behavior self-modification of maladaptive habits, etc.)

      traffic sociology (e.g., social conventions on highways, attitudes towards laws, etc.)

      automotive medicine (e.g., seat belt and child restraint use, effect of cars on health, etc.)

      transportation engineering (traffic calming devices, alternative transportation initiatives, etc.)

      accident reconstruction

      and others.


The language of driving psychology is adapted to specific populations and purposes. Driving psychology principles and programs are cast in a popularized but scientific language that is suitable for people of different educational level, age, and experience. In order for driver management programs to be effective, the drivers involved must be motivated to cooperate on their own. The desire for cooperation must stem from their understanding and acceptance. Understanding must be instructed, and acceptance must be won. The less perception of coercion, the greater the need for voluntary compliance, which depends on adequate understanding. Internal motivation for lifelong driver self-improvement is effective and dependable, but externally imposed rules are less effective and dependable.


The concepts and methods of driving psychology have to be clear to the drivers or trainees involved. Driving psychology maintains an internal rhetoric of persuasion designed to empower drivers to overcome their spontaneous inner resistance to its principles. It is to be expected that drivers will experience feelings of resistance to the principles of driving psychology. A major reason is that driving psychology involves self-assessment and self-modification, both of which are painful to most people. There is a natural and predictable resistance to changing automatized habits in the sensorimotor domain. There is resistance to changing cognitive norms of evaluating and judging other drivers. There is resistance to giving up affective norms of hostility and self-assertiveness as a driver. Driving psychology predicts the forms of the internal resistance and provides drivers with socio-cultural methods they can use for overcoming their own internal resistance to change.


The Future of Driving


Driving Psychology is now in the beginning stages and is still evolving in content and method, in response to the new need for managing driving behavior in an industrialized society. The goal of driving psychology is to reverse the natural trend of escalating accidents that occur with a sharp increase in the number of drivers and miles driven. The escalation of accidents, injuries, and their financial cost is a preventable phenomenon, but it requires socio-cultural interventions by government, social agencies, and citizen organizations. It is not preventable or containable by law enforcement methods alone because these are external coercion mechanisms that have only a limited effect. Drivers will revert to aggressive driving styles when detection by police can be avoided. Compliance is dependent on surveillance.


On the other hand, it is possible to use internal methods of managing driversí attitudes, emotions, and habits of thinking in order to influence the norms of driving in a society or region. Driving psychology provides the theory and methods for creating this type of internal influence by securing the voluntary cooperation and support of drivers for lifelong self-improvement activities. These internal methods are fully effective in the long run since they are incorporated into the personality and moral philosophy of each driver. Internal influence cannot be coerced since drivers can fake attitudes and can momentarily comply during inspection or testing. As soon as surveillance is withdrawn or eluded, the negative attitude asserts itself in freedom. Therefore, internal influence is possible only through the voluntary cooperation of each individual. This voluntary cooperation can be engineered by means of the social influencing process that naturally occurs in small groups like the Quality Driving Circles (QDCs). Long term QDC membership erodes people's natural resistance to habit change and builds enthusiasm for practicing collectivist and supportive driving scripts, schemas, roles, and norms (James and Nahl, 1997)


In addition, the new driving norms that these socio-cultural methods create in each community, are then spontaneously adopted from their parents by the current generation of children who will form the next wave of drivers in the region. The new, more supportive driving norms, along with more collectivist expectations about traffic, can be expected to have long term benefits to both the individual and society. It has been observed that individualistic and competitive expectations lead drivers to be aggressive and hostile towards other road users. This aggressive frame of mind can generalize to other interactive settings such as the workplace and the family, creating higher stress and greater conflict. Similarly, the more supportive and collectivist expectations can be expected to generalize to other social settings, creating less stress and conflict, and more satisfaction and calmness throughout one's daily round of activities. Thus, driving psychology is also a health-enhancing practice.


Driving psychology can draw on the methodology used in allied fields such as behavior management techniques for self-modification (Watson and Tharp, 1985) and rational-emotive integration (Ellis and Grieger, 1977).As well, group dynamic techniques for engineering new generational norms (James, 1997b) and developing moral and social intelligence (Kohlberg, 1976; Goleman, 1995).The lifelong driver self-improvement curriculum is grounded in the behavioral self-assessment of driving habits (skills and errors) within the driver's threefold self (affective, cognitive, sensorimotor).This feature can be used in self-assessment as well as in setting standards for testing, licensing, and rewarding or punishing (socially, economically, and legally). The behavioral self-assessment data generated by QDCs can be collected in national databases allowing scientists to construct behavioral maps of driving by region and demographic variables.These maps provide statistical information on the internal world of drivers such as the relative distribution of negative emotions in a region over time.I estimate that there are about 10 billion negative mini-interactions (lasting just a couple of seconds) that occur annually between the 125 million drivers who are daily on the road in the U.S.The behavioral self-assessment feature of QDCs can provide a representative sample of these interactions for accurate appraisal of the quality of driving life, and its regional monitoring by scientists and government agencies.QDC members produce these behavioral self-assessment records as a by-product of the baseline-intervention method of their self-modification plan.Part of the quality of life of a city, state, or region may be the driving climate as measured by the annual number of supportive vs. aggressive exchanges one has there.Theoretically it should be possible to devise zoning or traffic claming methods that make use of driving behavior maps for particular regions or segments of a highway, by adjusting regulations to fit the driving norms, or by special initiatives targeting troublesome behaviors by a rebellious minority.



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Appendix A:Additional Entries for the Taxonomy

The 18 Behavioral Zones of Driving (see Table 3)

Note: This Table is further charted and explained in this article.


Level 3 (highest)



+A3 (7) Altruism and Morality

      Applying a moral or religious precept to one's own driving actions, thoughts, and impulses.

      Being fearful of causing injury or damage to someone.

      Caring about others' feelings.

      Wanting to be supportive and helpful to other highway users.

      Putting community and teamwork principles ahead of selfishness or competition in traffic

      Seeing driving as involving the human rights of others on the road




-A3 (16) Egotism and Deficient Conscience

      Feeling vengeful or wanting to injure other highway users.

      Wanting to retaliate against others.

      Ignoring the feelings and rights of other highway users.

      Denying one's guilt or feeling hostile when told of one's faulty actions.

      Ignoring the comfort and safety of passengers.

      Denying that driving behavior reflects one's character




+C3 (8) Positive Dramatizations and Mental Health

      Accurately predicting the consequences of one's driving actions or those of others.

      De-dramatizing or neutralizing one's negative feelings in a driving situation.

      Making up emotionally intelligent driving scenarios that are protective of people and property.

      Being able to analyze driving scenarios in terms of the sequence of decisions by the interactants

      Using facts (such as accident rates) to re-assert one's commitment to safe driving.




-C3 (17) Negative Dramatizations and Madness

      Making up subjective or self-serving driving scenarios.

      Attaching game-like symbolic significance to driving exchanges (e.g., being overtaken is a loss of face).

      Imagining that one is being personally singled out as the object of attack or condemnation by other drivers (this is seldom the case).

      Denigrating or demeaning drivers for their physical appearance or that of their car.

      Imagining that you are isolated in your car as in your own castle.




+S3 (9) Enjoyment and Satisfaction

      Enjoying the drive, the scenery, the precise and controlled movements of the vehicle

      Experiencing a heightened sense of consciousness and relaxed good feeling during driving (called "Zen driving")

      Engaging in productive mental work while driving such as reflection, planning, making resolutions.

      Maintaining a good mood while driving.

      Expressing appreciation for the good things in driving (comfort, convenience beauty, importance)




-S3 (18) Stress and Depression

      Letting a despondent mood or lack of energy influence one's driving for the worse.

      Experiencing loss of self-esteem when observing one's own driving errors

      Feeling agitated, anxious and stressed while driving.

      Driving in a physically impaired state due to alcohol, drugs, or sleep deprivation



Level 2



+A2 (4) Defensiveness and Fairness or Equity

      Striving to be fair to other highway users.

      Wanting to avoid holding up other drivers or interfering with their goals.

      Maintaining a prudent orientation towards the potential errors of other highway users.




-A2 (13) Aggressiveness and Opportunism

      Being motivated by a competitive impulse to get ahead of other drivers.

      Feeling angry or judgmental towards highway users.

      Feeling intimidated or stigmatized by the actions of other drivers.

      Wanting the pressure or coerce other drivers.




+C2 (5) Objective Attributions

      Making up emotionally intelligent explanations for the intentions or behaviors of other highway users.

      Giving objective reasons for one's driving actions or feelings.

      Seeing things through the eyes or perspective of other highway users.

      Analyzing a driving situation to make sense of what's going on.




-C2 (14) Subjective Attributions

      Making up prejudiced, unfounded or presumptive explanations for others' driving behavior.

      Misinterpreting the causes of one's own driving actions or justifying one's faulty behavior.

      Attributing to others the cause of one's own frustrations in a driving situation.

      Finding a personal justification for doing the wrong thing (e.g., speaking or failing to yield when in a hurry).




+S2 (6) Polite Exchanges and Calmness

      Remaining calm and resisting pressure in the face of provocation.

      Recovering quickly after becoming upset with another driver.

      Inhibiting aggressive or denigrating gestures or words against other highway users or passengers.




-S2 (15) Rude Exchanges and Overreaction

      Insulting other highway users or passengers in words or gestures.

      Overreacting to another driver's rude behavior.

      Complaining about other highway users or denigrating (bad-mouthing) them.

      Pressuring or coercing another highway user or passenger.



Level 1 (lowest)



+A1 (1) Respect for Regulations and Self-Confidence

      Striving to be accurate and to avoid making errors in driving.

      Having a sense of respect for traffic regulations and authority.

      Being patient or self-controlled while waiting at traffic lights, stop signs, or traffic flow delays.

      Gaining self-confidence in one's driving.




-A1 (10) Disrespect for Authority and Lack of Self-Confidence

      Feeling dislike for traffic regulations or authority figures, including police and traffic officials.

      Experiencing frustration and insecurity in a routine driving situation.

      Feeling impatient at the pace of traffic.

      Feeling too scared to drive




+C1 (2) Knowledge and Awareness

      Learning and memorizing driving principles and facts.

      Observing or noting one's mistakes in driving and those of other drivers.

      Becoming more aware of one's driving actions, thoughts, and feelings.

      Realizing how one's driving behaviors is influenced by mood and environment.

      Mentally rehearsing correct action sequences or principles of good driving.




-C1 (11) Untrained and Faulty Thinking

      Deciding to watch out for police instead of slowing down.

      Believing it is safer to speed than to drive at speed limits.

      Deciding that it's always alright to drive 10 to 15 miles above the speed limit.

      Assuming that there is no legal speed limit somewhere (e.g., parking lots).

      Believing one is in the wrong when actually doing the right thing.

      Assuming one doesn't need lifelong driver education or constant improvement in one's driving.




+S1 (3) Correct Actions and Alertness

      Performing correct actions in routine driving situations.

      Paying attention to signs and being alert to other highway users.

      Keeping up with traffic

      Using self-regulatory sentences as reminders for better self-control and alertness.




-S1 (12) Faulty Actions and Inattention

      Executing an incorrect or illegal act in a routine driving situation.

      Driving with insufficient concentration or with a sense of distraction.

      Not noticing signs or being insufficiently alert to traffic conditions.




Note: This Table is further charted and explained in this article.



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