Burnaby, BC – Have you ever met anyone who would admit to being less than a better than average driver? Those of us who are completely honest may say so but our behavior behind the wheel could indicate differently. It’s called optimism bias and it is something that we are all affected by. We are all optimistic about our personal capabilities and that includes our driving skills.
We’ve had lots of experience driving (that traffic ticket was the cop making a quota), we’ve never been involved in a crash (that fender bender was pretty minor and won’t happen again) and all of those bad things that we hear about involve other drivers (they’re the ones that need to pay attention and drive safely). So, sure, we can cut corners a little by exceeding the speed limit (crash risk increases 10X at 25 km/h over), sending a couple of text messages (crash risk increases 20X), or having a couple of drinks before we leave (crash risk at least double). It’s pretty clear that the problem isn’t us and our optimism bias will allow us to discount the risk until something really does happen that shows us otherwise.
Remember ICBC telling us that driver education for new drivers didn’t improve their crash risk outcomes? Overconfidence is not a good thing when you are learning new skills and it appears that the knowledge gained led to some thinking that they were more skillful drivers than they really were. The driving skills training alone did not contribute to a reduction in crash risk. Stressing accountability for errors could be more beneficial here.
Making a change in risk perception and driver attitude can overcome our optimism bias, but it is not a simple task. Impaired driving is a good example of this. During my lifetime, the attitude of making it a contest to get home after drinking has changed to either limiting your consumption or arranging for a designated driver. However, I also know that it is not difficult to find an impaired driver on our highways today. We still have a long way to go instilling responsibility in road users today.
The author is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. To comment or learn more, please visit drivesmartbc.ca.
Constable Tim Schewe (Retired)
DriveSmartBC: Where better than average drivers satisfy their curiosity.