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

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls  

The campaigns to end FGM are a welcomed step, but they don't go far enough

Charlotte Rachael Proudman
Our political system is fragmented, with disillusioned voters looking to the margins for satisfaction  

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game