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Tailgating, blocking and lane hogging: Motorists may be closer to the edge than they realize.

Can you imagine following someone so closely behind them that they can hear your breath? Would you outright bully another person in the queue at the coffee shop, or start shouting out loud if you’ve been waiting too long? Here is a fascinating look at driving psychology.

These are all things that most of us wouldn’t dream of doing face-to-face; yet as many as 57% of drivers do this on a daily basis. Aggression, intimidation, verbal abuse, impatiently honking the horn – are just some of the crazy ways people behave on the road. Enter the fascinating realm of driving psychology

We all know the feeling too well: there’s a car looming in your rear view mirror, hanging onto your bumper. You can’t go any faster as there’s traffic ahead; but even if there wasn’t, why should you have to, just to get away from this idiot?! Not only is it downright annoying, but research shows that being tailgated increases a stress response, and can lead to unsafe driving and impulsive behavior.

Driving Psychology is a relatively recent field of psychology which looks at driving as a behavioural and societal issue, taking inspiration from the theory and concepts of other fields of psychology such as social psychology and health psychology, amongst many others.

How personality influences driver behavior

There are over 1.2 billion vehicles on the world’s roads. So no matter where you are in the world, you’re bound to come up against some sort of driving issue at some point – and whether you’re young or old, male or female; the usual driver stereotypes actually have nothing to do with your ability to drive considerately and safely – and much more to do with your individual personality traits.

Types of driver 

According to DrDriving.org, aggressive-negative driving is referred to as ‘Reptilian Driving’; and positive-supportive driving is known as ‘Cortical Driving’. Each driving type is determined by how ‘emotionally intelligent’ a person is. For example, taking responsibility for your actions is a positive emotional trait, whereas blaming others for a situation is a trait of a ‘reptilian driver’.

There are three factors that affect and influence our driving behaviour:

  • Affective

Affective behavior is all about our ‘will’ to do something; and includes affections, feelings, motives, and needs.

  • Cognitive

This behavior includes thoughts, reasoning and decision-making

  • Sensori-Motor

These are our physical actions, through our sensory and motor channels. For example, signaling before changing lanes is a complex psychomotor action involving eye-hand coordination and other physical movements. The ability to control all three of these factors together is what makes a safer driver. However, our driving is influenced by the following ‘five personality characteristics’:

  • Openness

People with open personality traits are curious and adventurous risk-takers; whereas people who are low on the open scale tend to be more cautious and risk-averse.

  • Conscientiousness

If you’re high on the conscientiousness scale, you’re likely to exhibit dutiful, disciplined driving behaviour; but those low on the scale are more prone to carelessness and inconsiderate behaviour towards others.

  • Extraversion

Extraverts are more inclined to ‘show off’ when driving and take more risks; whereas introverts are more restrained.

  • Agreeableness

How agreeable you are affects how compassionate and co-operative you’ll be with other motorists. If you’re low on the scale, you’ll be the sort of person who doesn’t let people in the traffic queue in front of you.

  • Neuroticism

This ranges from apprehension to security. Secure drivers are positive and confident, whereas apprehensive drivers are more prone to anger and emotional sensitivity when driving.


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