Magazine article Consumers' Research Magazine

The Other Guy's Fault

Magazine article Consumers' Research Magazine

The Other Guy's Fault

Article excerpt

When it comes to our experiences on the road, we see a lot of crazy behavior -- more so, it seems, as the amount of traffic goes up. It may be only natural, then, that we consider other motorists to be the poorer drivers -- endangering us and everyone else around them.

Obviously, some drivers are not only more skillful, but also safer drivers than others. The two, by the way, do not necessarily go together. Young males, for instance, have significantly higher fatality rates than other segments of the population, even though they presumably would tend to have peak coordination, sight, reflexes, and other attributes necessary for skillful driving. The difference, mainly, is they tend to take more risks than more mature drivers; risk perception and risk-taking play major roles in how one behaves on the highway.

In any case, there seems to be a tendency to overestimate our own driving skills as compared to others, and to downplay our risks. This observation has been borne out in several studies over the past 15 years or so. For example, one study of driver attitudes conducted in the early '80s found that 76% of the drivers surveyed considered themselves safer than the driver with median safety skills and 65% considered themselves superior to the median skill level. (By definition, the percentages should have been 50%; i.e., half the respondents should have been above the 50th percentile and half below, if their perceptions were accurate.) Other research has revealed that people have a systematic bias towards thinking their personal risk is lower than others in a number of activities.

The result of these perceptions -- that we are better in terms of skill than other drivers on the road and that we are at lower risk of injury -- has some interesting implications. As highway safety expert Leonard Evans points out in his provocative book, Traffic Safety and the Driver: "First, the majority of drivers you encounter in traffic consider themselves to be better than most drivers, and thus pose a greater threat to you than they think they do. …

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