The psychology of driving

May 15, 2018

By mastertorque

Understanding what drivers think and what motivates them may well make a difference as to how we see them (taxi’s) and ultimately engage with them on the road.  If we can apply a different mindset it will help us understand driver behaviour and other matters:

  • Why do accidents occur?
  • Reckless driving?
  • Dangerous manoeuvres

Whatever the incident or reason that contributes to this, the open road reflects life. It places us in situations where we are forced to act and react in particular ways. Our past experiences and upbringing not only shape our macro view, perceptions, biases, and emotional tendencies, but ultimately, our driving habits as well. This is what the experts refer to as the psychology of driving.

For fleets, understanding this psychology is part of the responsibility that comes with fleet safety management. That’s because decisions drivers make behind the wheel can reveal a great deal about who the driver is as an individual. More plainly, the decisions drivers make are reflected on telematics reports and crashes – and therefore, level of risk.

Although driving behaviour may change from day-to-day (and indeed from week-to-week) and depending on the situation, there are some styles that accurately categorise them.

The distracted driver
This driver easily takes their eyes off the road while driving. They are oftentimes caught daydreaming, looking at their phone, constantly changing the radio, reaching for objects, multitasking, etc. These drivers pose the greatest threat on the road and more than double their risk of crashing.

Solution: Drivers that are easily distracted should make a conscious effort to reduce the amount of in-vehicle distractions.  In this instance ranting on about speeding as the cause of crashes is a non-starter. Simply preaching to all and sundry to reduce speed will not suffice.

The rushed driver (maybe this describes the taxi driver of today)
This driver frequently speeds, changes lanes and swerves around others to get to their destination as fast as possible. This is an aggressive style of driving with dangerous consequences. These include possible collisions, vehicle impoundment, fines and more, depending on the jurisdiction and gravity of the offense.

Solution: For this driver (other than taxi’s), it’s all about time management. Give yourself enough time to get from A to B. This will reduce on-road stress as well as the likelihood of an accident.

The emotional driver
This driver lets anger, nervousness, sadness or other emotions take over rational decision-making, sacrificing everyone’s safety as a result. Drivers with severe road rage make harsh and violent movements, leading to further issues by starting volatile confrontations with others. On the other hand, nervous drivers tend to be indecisive in their decision-making, often overuse their brakes and are likely to drive below the speed limit.

Solution: Remind drivers to be self-aware and to pay attention if they are getting too emotional while driving. A person’s driving habits are likely to change when angry, stressed or otherwise. So, when this happens, tell drivers to take a deep breath, self-assess and pull over if necessary.

The new driver
This driver is often young and will either be overconfident in their abilities or scared to be on the road. Neither is safe. A 2013 study, found that drivers in their 20s and 40s are more likely to drive in the right (overtaking) lane. Alternatively, older drivers exhibit more conservative driving habits and adjust their lanes according to traffic dictates.

Solution: New drivers should ride-along with experienced older drivers as well as have a seasoned drivers or supervisor ride-along with them. This way they can get specialized attention, guidance and tips to being a safe fleet driver, as well as tips on defensive driving. 

The fatigued driver
This driver is most often a long-distance truck driver attempting to stay awake and alert during the night. A 2007 study by International Road Transport (IRU) says that 19% of single-truck crashes are at least in part a result of sleepiness. Another study in 2015 says long-distance truck drivers are more likely to experience ‘severe sleepiness’ during their first night shift in comparison to others.

Solution: Fleet managers must be aware of drivers trying to push their limits. Implement additional measures to ensure driver alertness during night shifts. Building deliberate breaks into their schedule may also be needed.

Promoting safe driving habits – supported with relevant policies and being led by management – among employees can help reduce the risk of accidents, as well as the accompanying costs and headaches.

Avoiding stereotypes while driving

A topic not often under discussion with regard to driver behaviour and training is discouraging the use of stereotypes when making driving decisions.

To explain further, when making a quick decision, we’re likely to consider the other driver’s physical attributions in our decision-making. Is the driver male or female? Are they driving a new or old car? What type of driver do they appear to be? This is another aspect to the psychology of driving.

People tend to make snap judgements based on age, gender, etc. Talk to your drivers about being conscious of preconceived biases that can affect their decision-making. Instead, situational attributions must be taken into consideration. How fast is the car going? Is it speeding up or slowing down? Are they indicating? What is the traffic like? Are there pedestrians and cyclists nearby?

Drivers must be self-aware of their thinking (not driving on autopilot) and stereotypes regarding decisions on the road. Doing so allows them to more carefully assess the situation and prevent possible collisions.

Controlling Driving Habits

Fleet managers must also discuss unsafe driving habits with their drivers and provide them with tips on how to improve them.

Of- course it goes without saying that the polices should drive (no pun intended) a comprehensive driver training program with the primary focus of defensive driver training.

Below is an additional list of tips that one can share in driver briefings on how to control bad driving habits.

Simple ways to improve driving:

  • Listen to your car: if the car is struggling to keep up with the driver’s style of driving, then it’s probably time to reassess and adjust the driving behaviour.
  • Read the road conditions: it is important to be conscious of situational behaviours (road conditions) while driving. Drivers must take in account the road circumstances. What is the weather like? What is the terrain like? What is the traffic like? Are drivers near you swerving in and out of lanes? What is the speed of the traffic which surrounds you? Are you in the correct lane?
  • Follow the rules of the road: make sure drivers are aware of all the rules of the road, both government laws and rules of the company, via a driver’s handbook. This should also include safe driving reminders. This includes not following too closely and the correct way to signal before turning.
  • Don’t forget the seat belt: it seems simple but remind drivers to always wear their seat belt.

Monitoring driver behaviour

Management by Measurement: You cannot successfully improve driving habits if you do not keep track of them. Ensure your telematics system helps you correct the situation and therefore keep them stay safe on the road. Individual users and fleets alike benefit from a telematics device that will help correct bad driving behaviours. It will also save money and increase productivity in an environmentally conscious way.

Don’t forget that companies like MasterDrive have pioneered the way in extracting data from telematics that significantly improve performance by connecting it to their training outcomes.


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