FORCING drivers to imagine they have caused a serious accident can help them become more responsible road users, according to a study published yesterday.
Psychologists believe that many accidents result from a feeling of invulnerability on the part of drivers. Experiencing an imaginary accident has a sobering effect that could make the roads safer, they said.
Nearly 600 drivers took part in the study and the majority had an inflated sense of their personal safety, Frank McKenna, a reader in psychology at Reading University, said. 'Most of us believe that accidents won't happen to us. That is rather a comfortable illusion to live with. Our study tried to get round those illusions.'
The drivers were asked to fill in a questionnaire detailing an imaginary accident they had caused which had serious repercussions, such as the loss of a child's life.
They were asked to give precise details of the accident, such as where it had occurred and whether it happened during the day or night. They had to write a description of the consequences and imagine the subsequent guilt, lack of confidence or inability to drive again.
'Evidence suggests it works,' according to the annual report of the Economic and Social Research Council, which funded the project. 'When a control group of 60 people were asked whether they would be prepared to drive over 80 mph on the motorway, 50 per cent replied yes. After completing the questionnaire that fell to 27 per cent.'
Dr McKenna said the worst offenders for feeling invulnerable were young men, who consistently overestimated their driving skills.
ESRC Annual Report; ESRC, Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon; pounds 10.