8/26/2011 3:21 PM ET|
Why you're a bad driver and I'm not
Cellphones and other distractions have us worrying more than ever about our fellow motorists. But we fool ourselves into thinking we're not part of the problem, too.
The road has always been a dangerous place. But today's drivers report being more scared than ever, even as the rates of fatal crashes in the United States drop to record lows.
The source of that heightened fear -- and anger -- is hardly a surprise: It's other drivers. You know, them -- the selfish ones, the lane-blocking ones, the failing-to-signal ones. And now those drivers seem to be even more enamored with their phones and other gadgets, at the expense of everyone else's safety and car insurance rates.
In a Texas Transportation Institute survey, four-fifths of drivers there say cellphone use has gotten worse in the past five years. By a wide margin, drivers even in such a fiercely libertarian state support bans on cellphone use while driving.
The AAA says that more than half of U.S. drivers surveyed in 2010 reported feeling less safe than they did five years earlier, a 17% jump from the year before. Nearly half blamed driver distraction. Most want stricter laws prohibiting cellphone use behind the wheel.
In this brave new world, it's very possible to be an aggressive, dangerous driver without ever exceeding the speed limit, getting into an accident or racking up driving violations.
Dialing a phone while driving triples the risk of a crash, according to AAA data, while simply talking increases the risk by 30%. The U.S. Department of Transportation attributed 16% of auto fatalities in 2008 and 2009 -- a total of 11,312 deaths -- to distracted driving.
But here's where driver surveys get interesting, and where they shed light on what's often overlooked in discussions about fear and rage on the road: Those other drivers are us.
In poll after poll, the same drivers who complain about what others do admit to engaging in the same behavior.
- A Pemco Insurance survey of Washington drivers found that nine out of 10 believed left-lane campers were a problem, but only 9% admitted to lane-blocking themselves.
- In the AAA survey, two-thirds of drivers said they used a cellphone behind the wheel in the past month. One-third admitted to doing so regularly.
- Nationwide insurance found last year that nearly half of drivers said they received texts and emails while driving, and more than 80% did so while stopped in traffic. Sixty percent of those with DVD players admitted to operating the units while driving.
- According to a study by Allstate, seven in 10 drivers say they've braked or swerved hard, missed a traffic signal or caused an accident because they were distracted.
"In poll after poll, we see instances where people recognize that these are risky behaviors, yet very significant numbers, when you ask, 'Have you done X in the last month?' say, 'Yes,' " says Peter Kissinger, the president and CEO of AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety.
AAA calls it the "do as I say, not as I do" factor.
It's not you, it's me
Do we think we simply chat while driving less often than those other drivers? When we see others doing it, do we forget that we're guilty ourselves? Or do we just think we're more adept than others?
Yes on all counts, say researchers.
"We call it the self-serving bias," says Leon James, a professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii and co-author of the book "Road Rage and Aggressive Driving."
This unconscious bias is hardly limited to the road. Most of us, particularly in individualistic countries like America, rate ourselves as above average in intelligence, work ethic, physical aptitude, character, even purity.
In one 1997 survey that gauged personal morality, 87% of those polled said they were likely to get into heaven themselves, but only 79% thought Mother Theresa would be granted entry.
'Defensive driving' if I do it, 'road rage' if you do it
Such rosy subjectivity is great for warding off depression but lousy for mitigating conflict. Nearly all of us walk around -- or drive around -- with a blind spot to our own missteps. Add the stress of traffic and it's a quick recipe for road rage -- and a great way to lose your affordable insurance premiums.
"Driving is the most dangerous thing people do on a regular basis," James says. "When there's a near miss or mistakes are made, the stakes are much higher. So this tends to raise the level of emotion quite a bit."
When James surveys drivers, on average they admit to driving aggressively 30% of the time. But they say that others drive aggressively 80% of the time.
"Clearly there is a 50% gap in awareness among drivers about their own aggressiveness," he says. "We do not, without training ourselves, observe our own driving mistakes."
Those who want to rid the roads of those awful other drivers should start with themselves, says James.
"In my case, I realize I am not such a good driver because my wife, who is the passenger, started pointing my mistakes out to me," he says. One of his occasional oversights: forgetting to turn off the turn signal. Have you done that?
Small oversights -- failing to signal every highway lane change, following too closely, merging imperfectly -- make you that other, "aggressive" driver, he says.
People "don't understand this fundamental thing: It's aggressive because it threatens other people. . . . It increases the risk factor."
This article was reported by Karen Aho for CarInsurance.com.
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It doesnt make any sense that thousands of people are paying fines every day for driving without their seat belt on but talking on
a phone while driving has become common and is 5 times more dangerous than not wearing a seat belt.
I have noticed that almost one person out of every three I meet driving down the road has a phone stuck up to their ear.
In my view there should be a stiffer penalty for this than not wearing a seat belt.
My traffic pet peeves:
1) Tailgating. Makes me very nervous. Did you know that if you rear-end the car ahead of you, it's YOUR fault and YOUR insurance company is liable for the damages to the other car? Better think again before tailgating. My dad always told me to leave as much space around my vehicle as possible. He's right. The old rule of thumb forty years ago was to allow a whole car length of space (between you and the vehicle head of you) for every 10 MPH of your speed. Now they say allow 5 seconds between you and the car ahead of you. That's pretty scary and pretty damn short and most people don't even allow that! Did you know that approximately 28% of all vehicle accidents are a direct result of tailgating?
2) Talking on cell phones and/or texting. Or talking to someone in the back seat by turning around when you're driving. Not very smart.
3) Not using signal lights. You're supposed to signal BEFORE you change lanes or turn, not in the middle of doing so. Why even bother to signal!? By then, it's too late.
4) Not merging into traffic correctly. Get your speed up. Look for a space in the traffic that you're about to merge into. Time your speed. Get out there! (And PLEASE don't tailgate the car ahead of you as you're merging. Stupid, stupid! Do you really expect the other vehicles to let a huge clump of several cars, who are bumper-to-bumper, merge onto the highway?) Use common sense. Be courteous.
5) Use your headlights at ALL times, especially when it's raining, snowing, foggy, sleeting. In most states, it's a state law. The more visible you are to other vehicles, the better.
6) Use common sense and be courteous. If someone lets your car in to merge or lets you pull ahead first, give them a "thank you!" wave or even stick your hand out the window and wave. I even do this when it's 20 below outside. People DO appreciate a "thank you" wave because it's so RARE nowdays!
6) Don't cut across lanes of traffic, endangering other drivers as well as yourself, just to make an exit or turn. You wouldn't believe how many times I see this happening on freeways everyday. It's as if those drivers think they're out in a field all alone. Not only is this particular move dangerous, but it's also illegal. Is it really worth almost crashing, just to make an exit or a turn? Where is your brain? Did you leave it at home?
Driving is a privilege, not a right. Remember that you're driving a HUGE machine that is capable of hurting or possibly even killing someone, including yourself. Could you really live with the fact that your stupidity killed or maimed someone? Think about it and please.....drive accordingly. Thanks.
The punishment for texting, talking and watching videos on a cell phone while driving needs to be as severe as driving while intoxicated.
Until that happens, the matter will never be taken seriously by most drivers.
Most every time I see an idiot driver, it's a woman in a mini-van too busy talking on her cell phone instead of paying attention to driving.
You have to be kidding me Jim Carpenter. It's someone elses fault you are impatient and have a short temper? It takes two people for road rage to occur. Any mature, intelligent person will avoid road rage instead of provoke it.
I'm a truck driver with over two million safe accident free miles under my belt. Safe driving is all about having good habits. The more bad habits you have, the higher the odds are you will be in an accident. Good habits means obeying the law, maintaining a safe following distance and signaling other drivers your intentions. Courtesy and patience has never hurt anyone. Every traffic fatality thought they were good drivers and it would never happen to them.
Drivers today either forgot the driving laws or just don't care. Tailgating is the number one cause of accidents, yet you see everyone doing it. Even though it's law, the majority don't use their turn signal anymore. Is it okay for people to chose which laws are okay to break and which laws that are not? Distracted driving is now number two since they been keeping track. 28% of wrecks last year involved distracted drivers.
The bottom line is if you speed, tailgate, don't use your turn signal, etc, you are a bad driver. I watch aggressive drivers everyday weaving in and out and doing other crazy stuff. All that just to save a few seconds. Is it really worth it?
i speed. i willingly admit it. i do not speed in school zones or active construction zones. i do not weave in and out of traffic. if traffic is heavy, i just go with the flow. i do not text or talk on the phone while driving. my car has a 5 speed manual transmission, so i don't have a free hand anyway.
last time i was at the dmv to renew my license, i saw people openly cheating on the written test while the dmv employees ignored it. i think the driving test is easy, it's just common sense questions, mostly. if a person needs to cheat, then they definitely should NOT be driving. a big problem we have in texas is illegals driving around in unregistered, uninspected cars with no license or insurance. they drive like they are still in mexico with no laws. they are experts at the hit and run.
Years ago I saw a comedian whose solution to bad drivers was simple...every driver is issued
a dart gun that shoots a small flag with a suction cup on one end...when you cross paths with a bad driver, you "flag" his car. When an officer spots a car with multiple flags on it, the driver is pulled over and ticketed. Jury of peers in simplest form.
When one is stopped at a traffic signal your primary responsibility is to be alert for when that signal changes. Not your child in the back seat, not your cell phone or dvd player or radio or big gulp or makeup.
Drive. It's what we're here for.
The problem is left lane campers and people messing with everything else in there cars. If you want to drive the speed limit or slower fine, then stay in the right lane and get in the left lane just to pass and then get back in the right lane. If someone wishes to drive faster then you then get out of their way. What do you care if they want to speed. It is their ticket not yours if they get caught. If you want to control traffic then become a police office until then stay out of the left lane. If you think what you are doing by hang in the left lane is going to control traffic you are wrong. What it is going to do is cost you a ticket for obstructing traffic. Our state is now ticketing left lane campers. ($300.00 ticket and 2 points for obstructing traffic!!)
That phone call or text can wait as well. If not, then pull in to a parking lot and talk and text all you want, but not when your driving!!
There are plenty of things that drivers do that are bad. However, cell phone use is just the worst, and I include texting in "cell phone use." For close to ten years, every driver I have seen that I thought was drunk, turned out to be on a cell phone. Anecdotally, young moms seem to be the worst. I was nearly hit again today by a guy pulling out from a stop sign without looking, but talking on his cell phone.
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