The safer the car, the faster it will be driven

Taken from a talk at the University of Reading delivered by Mark Horswill, a lecturer in the university's department of psychology

Share

It's probable that today in the UK about 10 people will die in car crashes, about 110 people will be seriously injured, and about 780 people will be slightly injured. So, what can we do to reduce car crashes further? One way is to try and understand driver behaviour and the factors that influence it. If our aim is to reduce car crashes, one of our best options would be to understand road-user behaviour and work out ways of influencing it.

It's probable that today in the UK about 10 people will die in car crashes, about 110 people will be seriously injured, and about 780 people will be slightly injured. So, what can we do to reduce car crashes further? One way is to try and understand driver behaviour and the factors that influence it. If our aim is to reduce car crashes, one of our best options would be to understand road-user behaviour and work out ways of influencing it.

Research has shown that most drivers think they're more skilful, safer, slower, and less likely to have an accident than the average driver. This is highlighted by the finding that people are willing to tolerate significantly greater speeds when they're driving than when someone else is driving. This, of course, fits in with the idea that people think other drivers aren't as competent or accident-free as themselves.

These illusory biases leave us with a problem for road safety. If people believe they are safer than average, why should they protect themselves by driving slower? In fact, we've found that drivers with greater biases do drive faster than other drivers.

This is a problem for safety campaigns directed at motorists. Drivers may see safety campaigns as being directed at the "average person" who is less safe than themselves - and therefore ignore the advice in the road-safety campaign, even though they might still agree with the message. One group of people who do not show these illusory biases are those who have been involved in a severe crash for which they are unambiguously to blame. But are there ways of reducing illusory biases without the crash?

One of our research projects at Reading has involved getting people to imagine and describe a severe accident for which they are to blame. What we found was that just getting people to imagine and describe this accident has an effect surprisingly similar to being involved in a real accident. They no longer believed they were more skilful, safer, and less accident-involved than the average driver. Their preferred driving speeds also decreased.

Do fast cars encourage people to drive faster, or do fast drivers simply choose to buy faster cars? We got UK drivers to complete an internet questionnaire. As part of the questionnaire, we gave people a description of a car and asked them how they would intend to drive it. What these drivers didn't know is that there were two versions of this questionnaire. Half the drivers were filling in a questionnaire where the car described was low-powered - a Skoda Felicia. The other half were filling in a questionnaire where the car described was high-powered - a BMW. The differences in intended speed were striking. For example, on a motorway, drivers intended to drive the BMW nearly 10mph faster than the Skoda Felicia.

The only problem with looking at vehicle performance is that a high-performance car is also likely to be bigger and smoother, and have more safety features, and so on. So this is what we looked at in a third study, where we studied different vehicle characteristics independently of one another. Vehicle smoothness and handling did not affect risk-taking, but performance and number of safety features did.

What can we do about this? A first step would be to redesign our cars. The design philosophy behind modern cars is to make them quiet and comfortable, and as well-insulated as possible from the outside world. The problem with this is that you're removing the very cues drivers use to estimate speed and danger in the first place. The problem, of course, is that the danger is still there. We should make cars that give more perceptual feedback when you're going fast. We should similarly educate drivers that sophisticated vehicle safety features do not automatically lead to invulnerability as indicated in an increasing number of car adverts.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Community / Stakeholder Manager - Solar PV

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Senior Marketing Executive (B2B/B2C) - London

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

C# .Net Developer

£23000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: C# .Net Develop re...

Electronics Design Engineer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: My client are l...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: Joe on Vlad, banks of the Jordan and Blair's radicalism

John Rentoul
 

Believe me, I said, there’s nothing rural about this urban borough’s attempt at a country fair

John Walsh
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor