According to the Oxford Dictionary, “a myth is a fictitious person, thing or idea, and it embodies popular ideas on natural or social phenomena”. The word myth aptly describes the following set of popularly held beliefs about why people crash and what needs to be done.
Myth #1 “Problem drivers are the problem.”
Because crashes are rare for individual drivers, it’s easy to think that a person who crashes must have a problem with their driving. They must be worse than ordinary drivers somehow. In fact, problem drivers, or recidivist offenders, account for only a small percentage of the road toll, less than around five percent.
90% of people who are killed or seriously injured have never been in a reportable crash before.
Most people who crash are ordinary. Ordinary drivers tend to underestimate how dangerous driving actually is and therefore crash more than they would like. Still, crashes are rare for individuals.
This is important information for fleet managers who might be inclined to try and fix the problem driver by sending them off for more training. This probably won’t work, and here’s why. The person who crashed almost certainly didn’t crash because they couldn’t drive, so driver training won’t make any difference. Secondly, if you are serious about improving your fleet’s safety performance, every driver in the fleet must drive more cautiously, not just the few who have recently come to your attention.
In a fleet setting, a large change by a small number won’t show up in your performance like a small change by many. Continuous improvement in safety means getting everyone involved in changing their routine driving behaviour.
Myth #2 ” Young drivers crash because of a lack of skill.”
This myth is so widely accepted to be factual and self evident, that it is rarely challenged. It is derived from the logic that young drivers have low skill and crash more. Older drivers have more skill and crash less. Therefore, enhancing driving skills would lead to fewer crashes.
This is simply not the case. Overwhelming evidence from all around the world shows clearly that drivers who are trained in advanced car control techniques are no safer in real world traffic conditions.
Myth #3 “People who crash must have a bad attitude.”
Bad attitudes are often assumed to be the root cause of dangerous behaviour. People may observe a driver speeding near a school or shopping centre. They may assume that the driver “does not care” about their own or other people’s safety.
Making judgments about other people’s motivations & attitudes is risky business. It is impossible for one driver to know what another driver is actually thinking or feeling. Studies into the science of motivation have found that staying safe & well is a fundamental human need that we all share.
Most people feel very strongly about their safety. That is to say, they have a strong positive attitude to safety. However, we don’t always behave in a safe way. This is because safety is not our only need. We may also feel strongly about getting to an appointment on time.
Many ‘day-to-day’ human needs conflict with our safety needs. By definition, these are risk taking needs. All human beings feel compelled to satisfy their own risk taking needs.
When we observe risky behaviour, we often forget that we too have taken risks and we most likely have positive attitudes to safety.
Myth #4 “Unsafe drivers don’t know the road rules.”
If a crash happens and the police are notified, someone usually gets a ticket. Therefore, we assume that the offending driver caused the crash. They either chose to commit an offence or didn’t know they were doing so.
If the offending driver knew what they were doing was wrong, we might say, “They deserve what they get”. On the other hand, logic may lead us to believe that a lot of drivers who don’t know the road laws would be safer with better knowledge.
Unfortunately, the facts do not support this line of thought. Extensive research into high school driver education has found that better knowledge of road law does help drivers get their licence on the first attempt, but does not make them safer in the first year of driving, when compared to their peers who have not done the training.
There is no evidence to show that drivers who have a better than average knowledge of road law, crash less than average drivers.
Myth #5 “Accidents happen. There’s nothing I can do about bad luck.”
After a crash, it’s quite normal for people to describe the event by saying, “It wasn’t my fault” or “There was nothing I could do”. One of the reasons why we think this way is because it feels uncomfortable to say, “I caused (even partially) that crash”.
Our legal framework of road rules will almost certainly reinforce this tendency by blaming one party or another.
After an explosion at a petrochemical refinery we might say, “The workers weren’t following procedures”. But how does that help after many people are injured or killed?
If procedures exist to prevent explosions, then the explosions must have been predictable. If the event is predictable, then it is not an accident when it happens.
Although crashes are rare events for individual drivers, as events they happen over and over again. In fact, the New South Wales Roads & Traffic Authority classifies all reported crashes into one of only 10 categories.
Accidents do happen, but they account for less then 1% of all the reported crashes. The fact is that almost all crashes are not accidents, but preventable events.
Myth #6 “It’s not going to happen to me.”
Most people are aware of how dangerous driving can be. We have seen the news reports & maybe even driven past accidents on the road. But crashes are not something that happens very often to us. It’s easy to think “It’s not going to happen to me”.
Most drivers would agree that driving is potentially dangerous. However, years of operating in a dangerous environment, without being hurt, can lead to an overly positive self-rating of our performance.
Ordinary drivers who rate themselves as better than average, could be described as optimistic. They believe they are better off than average, but they don’t behave any differently.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a young driver or an experienced driver, if you want to change the odds in your favour, you must drive more safely than ordinary drivers.
Research has shown over and over again that most drivers consider themselves to be of above average skill & less likely to crash than their peers.
At Corporate Driver Training Australia we aim to develop our products & services on what’s real, not on rumour, myth & anecdote. That’s why we’re different, and that’s why you can be confident.
Many times we have used the words think & feel. We believe that the way people think & feel are very important factors that contribute to why we do the things we do.
Learning to understand the role of thinking (cognition) & feeling (emotion) is very important if you seek to change driver behaviour.
If you would like to know more about the links between emotion, cognition & behaviour go to the Our Approach page, or speak to a consultant