How to Prevent Risky Driving

Jaanus Harro is Professor of Psychophysiology at the University of Tartu. His research areas include pharmacology, psychology, health research, and neuroscience.

fast driving

Learning to notice one’s impulsive behaviour in traffic helps reduce accidents on the road. Image credit: Stuart Haury / Flickr Creative Commons.

Many traffic accidents happen due to drivers’ impulsive behaviour. Teaching drivers to acknowledge their own spur-of-the-moment decisions helps reduce risky driving.

In a recent study, we confirmed the efficacy of our novel technique targeting novice drivers’ risky behaviour in traffic. We divided nearly two thousand driving school students into an intervention group and a control group. The intervention consisted of a one-and-half-hour lecture and group work.

Participants in the intervention group answered a few questions that help to paint a simple and reliable picture of how impulsive their behavior tends to be. For example, students assessed how likely it is that in a complex situation they might act without considering the consequences.

Then through individual and group analysis, we lead driving students to recognize themselves in some typical traffic situations. Let’s say, you are driving on a narrow curvy road and a slow driver is crawling ahead of you. What do you do? Try to pass him, signal him, drive patiently behind him until you get a chance to pass safely?

During the years following the intervention, we have monitored the participants’ traffic offenses and accidents using the databases of police and the traffic insurance fund. The follow-ups have revealed that taking part in the intervention successfully reduced risk-taking of novice drivers, and breaking the rules. Even the number of accidents they had had was lower.

We can thus conclude from this study that brief interventions that are integrated into the driving education program and focus on personal psychological risk factors can be effective for improving traffic safety.

Currently we are working with the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy in Los Angeles and Vancouver, as well as with driving schools in Estonia, to implement the intervention technique in their regular driving education curricula and hopefully reduce danger on the road.

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