Can roads become safer?

Some of the findings stated in the article Aggressive Driving is Emotionally Impaired Driving by Dr. Leon James, Professor of Psychology Dr. Diane Nahl, Associate Professor of Information and Computer Sciences University of Hawaii show that the efforts through car and road design changes, intensive law enforcement and scattered attempts of psychotherapy have not reduced injuries and deaths in USA. This maybe useful information for all concerned about road safety in India. Please see the excerpts below (the headings are my additions) :

External and Internal factors determining road safety

External environmental forces operate to increase safety and reduce risk, such as modern highway management and car design. Internal individual forces operate to maintain high risk at the expense of safety, such as:

  • Widespread acceptance of a competitive norm that values getting ahead of other drivers.
  • A daily round schedule of time pressure and mismanagement with rushing and routinely disobeying traffic laws.
  • Incomplete driver education curricula so that most people have inadequate training in emotional self-control as drivers.
  • Media portrayals of aggressive driving behaviors in a fun context.
  • A psychological tendency to maintain a preferred level of risk, so that people increase their risk level when environmental improvements are introduced (also called “risk homeostasis”).

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 driver’s competence in balancing risk with safety. The risk in driving is largely under the control of the driver. The driver decides in each moment what risks to take and which to inhibit or avoid. Risk taking is a tendency that varies greatly among drivers as well as for the same driver under different conditions. Thus, if a road is made safer by straightening it, or by removing objects that interfere with visibility, drivers will compensate for the greater safety by driving faster—the “risk homeostasis” phenomenon (Wilde, 1994; Summala, 1987).

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 numerous safety improvements. The societal response to the stalemate between road safety and individual 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. Besides law enforcement, there has been an increase in litigation due to aggressive driving disputes between drivers, as well as the growth of psychotherapy and counseling services, including anger management clinics and workshops, and community initiatives. These scattered attempts have not caused a change in basic driving patterns.

Life long self improvement necessary

Driving is a complex of behaviors acting together as cultural norms transmitted by parents, other adults, books, movies, TV. Driving inherently involves taking risks, making errors, and losing emotional self-control. Drivers need training in risk taking, error recovery, and emotional control under emergency or provocation conditions.

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

The primary affective driving norms 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.

The primary cognitive driving norms are:

  • Inaccurate risk assessment
  • Biased and self-serving explanations of driving incidents
  • Lack of emotional intelligence as a driver (Goleman, 1986)
  • 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.

  • The primary sensorimotor driving norms are:
  • Automatized habits (unselfconscious or unaware of one’s style and risk habits)
  • Errors of perception (e.g., distance, speed, initiating wrong action)
  • Lapses (in attention or performance due to fatigue, sleepiness, pain, 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.



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