I’m a good driver — no, you aren’t

There have been numerous studies in the United States and throughout the world on how drivers view their ability to drive and how they rate the ability of other drivers. The results are usually about the same. We think we are better drivers than others.

For instance, in one survey, when asked to rate other drivers as good drivers, average drivers, or poor drivers, only 25 percent placed other drivers in the “good driver” category. However, when asked to rate their own driving, 90 percent placed themselves in the “good driver” category. Are we ALL above average? Obviously, these results are mathematically impossible, but it gives us an insight into why drivers do what they do.

Here’s an example. Whenever roads are snowy or icy, we get an increase in crashes. Why does this happen, when we all know we can’t drive as fast on slippery roads? The answer just might be because we think we are so good at driving. We think, since we are so good, we can recover control if we skid, so why bother to slow down. Another example is the high percentage of drivers that tailgate. They don’t view tailgating as dangerous because they view themselves as good drivers and as such have the expertise to stop in time. However, we don’t like other drivers tailgating us. Why? Because we view other drivers as not so good, and thus they might hit us from behind.

In fact, most of us would prefer to drive rather than ride – after all, aren’t we better drivers than whom we would be riding with?

In Tom Vanderbilt’s book “Traffic Why We Drive the Way We Do,” he points out that the lack of feedback contributes to drivers thinking they are good at it no one tells them when they’re bad. Other than a honk or finger, there is no way for other drivers to communicate. At least an athlete gets feedback on how good he/she is by how high they can jump, pole vault, score baskets etc., but for a driver, if he makes it home from work, does he get a 9.1 out of 10, asks Vanderbilt? Who rates a driver?

Vanderbilt continues about when negative feedback actually does come our way, perhaps in the form of a traffic ticket, we might blame the officer having to make a quota, or a crash as bad luck. But the reality is that there is very little feedback. Even when we are riding with family or friends, we seldom criticize their driving ability.

What we should do, since we can’t rely on feedback, is to learn from our mistakes or from our near misses. We shouldn’t just dismiss them but should consider just what got us into that tight spot. If we pull out from a stop sign and had a near miss because we didn’t see the oncoming car, we need to judge our driving to see why we didn’t see that other car. If we enter a village and didn’t see that the speed limit dropped, we need to ask ourselves why we didn’t see the sign. We need to analyze our driving constantly, and question ourselves about any mistake we make, regardless of whether we get into a crash or not. According to the “accident pyramid” drivers make about 10 unsafe acts for every near miss, so we need to reduce our unsafe acts. If we do, it will in turn reduce crashes, personal injuries, and even fatalities. Let’s all try.

For more articles on traffic law and safety, go to the traffic safety board’s website at and click on “Traffic Safety Board” under departments then look for Did You Know articles under “services.”