My daughter, the driving student, asked me why so few drivers use turn signals. I thought about it, and said it's because they derive no personal benefit from using them. Turn signals do not benefit the driver, only all the other drivers around them. It's like the group that could only eat with four-foot-long spoons: we only benefit when everyone acts unselfishly. Or obeys the law. That is an example of traffic psychology. Studies of the behavior of drivers show us that poor driving is caused by errors in perception and psychological quirks that make us notice bad driving in everyone but ourselves. The Guardian gives us ten examples, such as
3. We forget that other drivers are people too …
When someone accidentally walks into us on the street or their shopping trolley bumps into ours, the usual reaction is to apologise and move on. But when driving, near misses are often met with instant anger – and in the most extreme cases, road rage. Research shows that drivers more readily dehumanise other drivers and pedestrians in ways they wouldn't when interacting in person. This loss of inhibition is similar to the way some of us behave in online environments.
4. … yet we behave more aggressively to those of 'lower status'
One interesting paradox is that even though we're prone to dehumanising other drivers, we still act according to social status. Decades of research shows that prolonged honking, tailgating, and other aggressive behaviours are more likely if the aggressor believes they are the more important driver. What's particularly interesting is that these judgements can be based simply on the vehicles involved, with no knowledge of the person behind the wheel: larger cars generally outrank smaller cars and newer cars trump older ones. Drivers of more expensive cars are also more likely to behave aggressively toward pedestrians.