Driver Education & Road Safety


Psychologists who study the relationship between thinking styles and behaviour have discovered that people who think optimistically behave differently to those who think pessimistically. Optimists have a positive thinking style that leads them to believe they are in control of their lives. In their view, positive events are more likely to occur to them than to others and they are less likely to encounter negative events than are their peers.

When optimists do experience negative events, they brush them aside. They see failure as a temporary setback, most likely caused by bad luck or unfortunate circumstances. Optimists do not take things personally - a failure is just one incident, and does not represent their overall ability. It is not worthy of prolonged reflection. Even after failure, optimists still feel able to avoid negative events.

It is argued that because of their thinking habits, optimists are happier than pessimists and make much better progress towards achieving their goals. They have a strong sense of control and a disregard for failure. They tend to take more risks.

People who have an exaggerated sense of control - who are unrealistically optimistic - tend to be less cautious than those who have more realistic views.

There are links between unrealistic optimism and risk-taking in driving. Unrealistic optimism is common in drivers. It is well recognised that many average drivers consider themselves to have above-average skill, and to be less likely to be involved in a crash event than their peers.

Research has found that some driver training programs can actually increase drivers' chance of crashing.

This may be because driver training promotes an exaggerated sense of control, with trainees coming away feeling more confident about their ability to drive. This is why the standard does not include criteria covering skid control.

Optimism can be fed in subtle ways. Some researchers of driver behaviour suggest drivers should be trained to perceive that they have less control than they actually do!

Much research has found that drivers perceive themselves as being better than average. Evans (1991, p. 322) cites Svenson (1981) who had a group of subjects in two countries rank their own safety and driving skill relative to others in the group. Seventy-six percent of the drivers considered themselves as safer than the driver with median safety, and 65% of the drivers considered themselves more skilful than the driver with median skill.

This self-perception can in part be attributed to optimism bias - the finding that most of us have an optimistic perception of our future. Job (1999, p.32) says, 'we see ourselves as less likely than our peers to suffer an early heart attack, have cancer, AIDS or a drinking problem but more likely to live past 80 years, own our home, and have gifted children.' (Weinstein, 1980; 1987; Lee and Job, 1994; Job, 1995). This perception includes seeing ourselves as better than average drivers (Dalzeil and Job, 1994; Job, 1990 and 1990a; Job, Hammer and Walker, 1995; Mathews and Moran, 1986), who are less likely than average to be booked for drink driving (Lee and Job, 1995) or to be injured (or killed) in a car crash (Job, 1990a; Lee et al, 1993).'


Safety on our roads is governed not by how we drive (skill), but how we do drive (behaviour).

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