How do you define a ‘bad driver’? Are you one?

Some people on the road (or more appropriately, off the road) are easily categorized as bad drivers. If someone is swerving back and forth and can’t stay in their lane, they are a bad driver. If someone drives off of the road and rolls the car down a steep embankment into the parking area of a drive-in movie theater (I actually saw this happen while buying my popcorn), they are a bad driver.

bad driver

How about the person who is tailgating? Bad driver, right? How about the person who is driving too slow, causing someone to tailgate? Bad driver, right? How about the person who makes a last second right turn from the middle lane? Bad driver, right?

If you have done any of these things (hopefully you haven’t taken the short cut into a drive-in), I am not suggesting that you are a bad driver, because you had a reason to drive that way. Right?

There are a couple of very interesting psychological occurrences that we all experience everyday, whether we realize it or not. The first is called Attribution Theory and simply means that we judge people’s behavior based on either circumstances (external situation) or their character (internal disposition).

The really interesting part is how most of us, most of the time fall victim to the Fundamental Attribution Error, which means that when we are judging other people’s behavior, we put way too much emphasis on their character and when we judge our own behavior, we put way too much emphasis on the circumstances. In other words, if someone else did something, I would say that they did it because they chose to do it. If I did the same thing, I would say that I did it because the situation demanded that I do it.

Let’s look at the situation of someone making a turn from the wrong lane. It’s obviously a bad move. It’s illegal, dangerous and rude. When we look at someone else who does that in front of us, we get mad and might think why didn’t they look where they were going and get in the right lane?! They don’t care about anyone else on the road. When we do the very same thing, we know that we had a good reason for it and think sorry! I don’t know this area and my GPS was telling me the wrong turn or I thought that lane ended on the last block. Not my fault, I needed to get over or I just had a really really bad day and I can’t concentrate on driving right now.

The truth is somewhere in-between. Even if you know why you made that last-second turn, no one else on the road does and no one else is expecting it. From your perspective, you’re doing what the situation demands. From their perspective, you’re being a total jerk-wad (Sorry for the language).

(In that situation, if it’s not safe to get over and make the turn, the best choice is to just make the next turn that you can safely and then loop back around the block. No big deal.)

The second of the psychological traps is called In-Group Bias. This is similar to the Fundamental Attribution Error and it simply means that we tend to view whatever group that we are in as superior to other groups. (For example, Broncos are awesome! Raiders suck!) We have all experienced this in the context of driving and it can be very dangerous.

One of the ways we fall into this trap is in the universally frustrating situation of the Tail-Gater vs. the Slow Driver. You probably fall into one of two categories of people that either tend to drive (not too much over) the speed limit (or slower) and hate it when someone tail-gates you or you drive fast and hate it when someone in front of you is driving slow, so you tail-gate. Without getting into the details of this controversial argument and safety issues, for now, I just want to point out that this is a perfect example of In-Group Bias.

The first group thinks that people who drive in a similar manner are the better drivers and the Tail-Gaters are the bad drivers. The second group thinks that people who drive in a similar manner are the better drivers and the Slow Drivers are the bad drivers.

Another area where we are often victim to In-Group Bias is where cars and pedestrians have to share the same space. Imagine yourself driving through a busy grocery store parking lot. You get frustrated at the pedestrians who don’t even look to see if there is a car coming. You stop at the stop sign, but after you start moving, someone else just walks right in front of you. Then there are the people who are pushing their carts down the parking isles or walking three abreast so you can’t get by.

Now imagine yourself leaving the grocery store and walking to your car. You are frustrated with the cars who just want to push through with no regard for the pedestrians. You obviously have the right of way. It’s the cars that need to stop for you.

So, are you a bad driver or a good driver?

The point of this article is to help you see that you are both. And so am I. And so is that other jerk-wad on the road.

The next time someone makes you mad on the road (or the office, or the store, or the drive-in…) try to see them as a person, who had a reason for doing what they did, instead of a jerk, who is just choosing to piss you off. Also, the next time you pull a bone-head move, try to think of what you can do differently instead of simply justifying your actions based on your circumstances.

As I said in the beginning, there are obviously some drivers that everyone can agree on as being bad drivers (like drive-in movie guy), but in order for you to learn how to be a better driver (no matter where you are on the spectrum), you must come from a perspective of understanding that we all make good decisions and poor decisions. This blog is about helping you to see which is which and how to make more good decisions behind the wheel, and maybe even in your life, as well.

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