93% of U.S. drivers — that’s almost all of you reading this blog — believe they’re above average drivers. If you don’t believe the ample research, just lurk at any of thousands of forums devoted to the topic of driving, or read the comments following any online news article about a traffic collision, or read this discussion on the harrowing comments from people who claim they are perfectly safe drivers while they text and talk on the phone.
I spend about an hour a day sitting on a bus, watching the traffic around me while I let somebody else drive me to work. I spend a lot of time watching your behavior behind the wheels of your cars and, I assure you, every single last one of you suck. Spend enough time driving, and all of you will suffer a momentary lapse of attention. The only reason you don’t have a fender bender every time you drive is because, for the most part, somebody else was paying attention at the exact moment that your focus lapsed.
It’s human nature, and we’re almost always able to get away with it. It’s only when there’s a relatively rare perfect storm when multiple parties don’t pay attention simultaneously that somebody pays the price of that everyday neglect. Because we almost always get away with it, almost all of us interpret this as safe driving. And those of us who do get into an ‘accident’ almost always blame an external factor. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, Duncan the cyclist has done it.
This is the Lake Wobegon Effect, where all of us are above average, though this is clearly impossible.
Walking hand in hand with this illusory superiority is the entitled, self righteous attitude that can lead to road rage. When you trip over a rock, it’s because you’re clumsy and stupid. When I do it, it’s because you distracted me. Usually we keep our opinions to ourselves on these matters, and we get along. In our cars, though, something transforms us from the mild mannered Mr. Walker into the maniacal and dangerous Mr. Wheeler. In his “Confessions of a Bad Driver“, James Schwartz at the Urban Country makes the case that this is akin to online cyber bullying, in which anonymity removes the social inhibitions that keep us acting out with antisocial behavior.
Schwartz’s conclusion and call to action:
In other words, we do things behind the wheels of our cars that would be socially unacceptable anywhere outside of a car.
It’s about time we acknowledge this as a societal issue, accept some blame, and start to view this behaviour as unacceptable behind the steel and glass.
What do you think? Will we ever be able to accept responsibility for our actions?