Report 1

My Understanding of Driving Psychology

By Aaron Reich

Instructions for this report are at:


Theory of Driving Psychology


            In the lecture notes for this course are several charts created by Dr. Leon James and Dr. Diane Nahl that effectively summarize various dimensions of driving psychology theory and behaviors.  These charts provide a clear and concise picture of various aspects of driving behaviors for students and other interested readers.  Each chart, or table, focuses on a different aspect of driving psychology.  This section of Report 1 will provide summaries for Tables 1 through 4. 


            Table 1 opens the doors of perception to the student or interested reader; it enables him or her to see driving behavior as either skillful or erroneous.  Prior to understanding this fundamental principle of driving psychology theory, one may not realize driving behaviors can be skills or errors.  Making this distinction allows the driver to recognize the quality of his or her driving behavior.  Driving behaviors can be either skills or errors in three domains of the self: affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor.  Affective driving skills are feelings (one type of behavior) that increase the inner-peace of the driver and harmony with other drivers, while affective driving errors are feelings that stir up anger and hostility toward other drivers.  Cognitive driving skills are thoughts that are selfless and altruistic, while cognitive driving errors are thoughts that are self-important, inflate the ego of the driver, and insult the integrity of other drivers.  Sensorimotor driving skills are words or actions that express a positive attitude toward oneself and toward other drivers, while sensorimotor driving errors are words or actions that express negativity and hate toward other drivers.  Examples of these driving behaviors are displayed on Table 1 of the lecture notes.


            Table 2 organizes self-witnessing activities in the 18 behavioral zones of driving.  Self-witnessing is a fundamental skill in driving psychology, as it is a prerequisite for other skills to develop.  One must first recognize his or her own behavior before taking steps toward improving on it.  Table 2 demonstrates the dual modes of operating, skillful or erroneous, in the three areas of responsibility, safety, and proficiency, for each domain of the self as was explained above.  In other words, there are nine categories of dualities, making 18 behavioral zones of driving.  Each skill has a corresponding error.  This table helps to explain the increasing nature of both skills and errors in driving behavior.  Skills lead to further skills in all domains of the self, while errors lead to more errors in the domains.  This table is helpful for students and interested readers on many levels.  Most drivers are not perfect, and this table helps drivers to recognize their driving behavior is a collection of skills and errors; for each error there is a suggested skill.  Please refer to Table 2 for a complete understanding.


            Table 3, titled Two Stages of a Driving Personality Makeover Plan, provides clear cut strategies for overcoming aggressive driving behaviors and becoming a supportive driver.  It is a very practical chart that would be useful in standard driving manuals.  Once a person is able to understand the concept of the three-fold self (three domains of self) and recognize when each one is functioning, then he or she can begin the training offered by Table 3.  There are two stages in this table as one can infer from the title.  The first stage is overcoming being an aggressive driver.  For each domain of the self, the table provides mantras (positive affirmations) for drivers to help them to avoid being an aggressive driver.  The second stage explains the requirements for being a supportive driver in each domain of self.  This table provides a framework for driving behavior improvement and numerous common behaviors for drivers to work on.  This table is intended for drivers to use daily and gradually improve their skills.  As was the case in the tables above, the essential idea is to transcend negative feelings toward other drivers that derive from self-importance and self-righteousness.  Supportive driving is achieved by maintaining a cooperative attitude toward other drivers, accepting and forgiving their mistakes.  Please refer to Table 3, print one out, and keep it in your desk at all times.


            Table 4 describes the AWM approach in driver self-modification.  AWM is an acronym that stands for Acknowledge, Witness, and Modify.  This three-step approach should be utilized throughout one’s driving life to improve upon one’s own driving behavior.  The first step is to acknowledge a particular aspect of driving behavior that one needs to work on.  This first step is very important because without it one can not improve his or her own driving behaviors.  The second step of this approach is to witness the driving behavior while on the road.  To do this, the driver has to be very alert and focuses on his or her emotional state while driving.  The third step is to interrupt or interfere with the driving behavior and modify it through one’s own thinking.  This can be done vocally to make the modification more effective.  Table 4 explains this very effective approach toward driving behavior modification and offers hope to all the aggressive drivers out there who are willing to make a change. 


Main Principles of Driving Psychology


            Driving psychology is a specialized division of psychology that aims to improve the collective quality of driving behavior by utilizing specific techniques of self-awareness and self-modification.  According to the lecture notes, there are 11 basic principles of driving psychology.  All 11 basic principles that appear in the lecture notes will not be summarized here, instead only what I consider to be the main principles will be explained.  The first three are very clear and concise:


            1.  Driving is a complex of behaviors acting together as cultural norms.

            2.  Driving norms exist in three domains: affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor.

3.      Driving norms are transmitted by parents, other adults, magazines, movies, and TV


            The first principle changes the lay perspective on what driving essentially is.  To someone unfamiliar with driving psychology, driving is the act of operating a motor vehicle.  In driving psychology, driving is much more than motor vehicle operation, and it involves thoughts and emotions as much as physical movement.  This idea is further expressed in the second principle.  Driving is not limited to physical movement; physical movement is only one of the three domains of driving norms.  This reoccurring notion of the three domains of self is at the root of driving psychology.  The threefold self is a useful model, one that enables drivers to recognize their emotions behind the wheel and separate their emotions from their actions.  The third principle explains that driving norms are transmitted from one generation to the next by parents, other adults, media, and entertainment; knowing this is crucial for administering positive change in the world of driving.  Norms are transmitted through generations, so the actions of today’s adults will change the children of tomorrow.


            Principles 4,5, and 6 from the lecture notes demonstrate that the behavioral norms for driving in this generation are maladaptive and perpetuate aggressive driving.  Affective norms for this generation are negative and anti-social.  It’s a dog-eat-dog world out on the road and people of all ages are driving in a way that is competitive and territorial.  It is the norm for people to harbor emotions of anger and feelings of hostility toward other drivers.  Cognitive driving norms for this generation are inaccurate and inadequate.  Drivers are incorrectly judging other drivers, taking poorly thought out risks, and having self-serving and self-righteous thoughts on the road.  It is normal in this generation for drivers to perceive themselves as excellent and others as infidels.  This norm of driving is extremely maladaptive and disruptive to the harmony of the planet.  Sensorimotor driving norms are inadequate and immature.    People are honking horns, cussing, flipping each other off, and acting completely insane while driving; and this behavior that should be unacceptable is accepted and encouraged in this generation.  Drivers are also driving while tired, bored, distracted, and under the influence of drugs, all of which is a norm for many drivers.


            Changing these maladaptive driving norms is possible through socio-cultural management techniques that create a desire for change in the drivers themselves.  Driving psychology needs to be implemented from the top down in order to change the norms of this generation and have a positive effect on future generations.  Driving is a semi-conscious activity because much of it is comprised of automatized habits acquired through social conditioning.  Therefore, it is difficult to break patterns of driving behavior, but it can certainly be done by training drivers to be objective in their self-awareness.  Drivers need to be trained in risk assessment, emotional control, and error recovery so not to lose their heads while on the road and make dire mistakes.  One of the main goals of driving psychology according to the lecture notes is lifelong driver training.  It is recommended that communities have Quality Driving Circles (QDCs) that teach skills and emotional intelligence.  Driver training should not stop after acquiring a driver license; instead, driving training should continue throughout life, focusing on the various dimensions of driving psychology.


Three Domains of Driving Behavior


            Driving is a complex of behaviors acting together as cultural norms.  This complex of behaviors can be broken down into three domains: affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor.  These three domains are components of the three-fold self that is present throughout all experiences.  In this section of Report 1, each of the three domains of driving behavior will be explained and illustrated through my own driving skills and errors.


            Affective behavior is the realm of emotions and feelings.  From moment to moment, from experience to experience, our affective self is defining how we feel.  Physiologically, neurological chemicals and hormones fluctuate in the brain and body according to our emotional states.  The affective self is our emotions, which can change dramatically from one situation to the next.  While driving, the affective self is the part of the self that does the feeling, for example, “I’m getting angry right now” or “I feel great.”  Personally, I tend to demonstrate more skills than errors in the affective domain while driving.  During most of my driving time, I either listen to enjoyable music (for me) or have a positive conversation with my passenger(s), and in doing so I establish an environment for a positive mood.  This positive mood opens the door to showing further affective skill while driving.  When in a positive mood it is easy and natural to show affective skills.  For example, when another driver is traveling very slow in front of me and fails to signal when turning off, I do not get angry if I’ve set up a positive mood.  Instead, I go with the flow of other drivers and recognize that it is my choice to get angry or not.  I pat myself on the back (emotionally) for not getting angry, which further reinforces my affective driving skills.  This is the case for me the majority of my driving time.  On the other hand, there are times when I make affective driving errors.  If I am driving in a negative state of mind or feeling emotionally unstable, I am quick to lose my temper when other drivers slow me down or make threatening mistakes.  These feelings of anger and hostility usually proceed to the level of name-calling and insults to myself and my passenger(s) about the other driver.  Since being in this course, I have been working on setting up my positive mood before driving and avoid making affective errors.  When I do make an affective error, I remind myself that it was my choice to get angry and I didn’t need to act the way I did.  It feels better and more mature to give myself a hard time for making affective errors rather than feeling they were justified or “the norm.”


            Cognitive behavior is the realm of thoughts, which are closely related to emotions.  They are so close that the affective and cognitive selves are nearly indistinguishable at first.  With devoted practice, one can learn to separate feelings and thoughts and interrupt the automatic process of thinking negative thoughts after having a negative feeling.  To be skilled cognitively is to think, “I am feeling angry right now, but I do not need to feel this way or act on it.”  Cognitively skilled means to consciously be aware of feelings and stop negative ones from going any further.  Thinking involves a judgement, and it is this judgement that determines whether the thinking is skillful or erroneous.  In my own driving experience, I have been known to show cognitive skills and also to make cognitive errors.  Just this week, I noticed that I was thinking to myself, “This guy in front of me is a moron.  He should not be driving at all.”  I soon realized that this was a cognitive error because I was judging him without really knowing anything about him at all.  My cognition, or my thoughts, about the other driver were presumptious and negative, and these are two characteristics of cognitive errors.  One of my usual things to do while driving is to think to myself, “It’s safe to be traveling at this speed.  It makes me comfortable and I am not being too risky.”  This is a cognitive skill because I am consciously thinking that my proper driving behavior at the moment is positive and rewarding.  Cognitive skills are a crucial part of supportive driving behavior.


            Sensorimotor skills and errors exist in the realm of physical expression, which includes spoken words.  Speaking is a physical activity and so is classified as sensorimotor behavior.  Thus, sensorimotor driving behavior is defined by words and actions that are taken on the road.  Waving kindly to other drivers or angriliy flipping the middle finger at othe drivers are both examples of sensorimotor driving behavior.  Speaking to oneself in the vehicle is also sensorimotor driving behavior, for example, yelling “Get off the road, asshole!” or calmly saying, “It’s okay.  Go ahead.”  These verbal expressions reflect and reinforce the affective and cognitive states of the driver.  Sensorimotor skills are important because they help reinforce support driving behavior.  Sensorimotor errors are especially dangerous because they most directly affect other drivers.  I will illustrate the concept of a sensorimotor driving skill by explaining an example from my own driving experience.  While waiting to make a right turn on to a crowded street, I was let in my another driver.  I smiled and waved gratefully to the driver who let me in.  This is a sensorimotor skill because with my actions I positively affected another driver by showing my gratitude.  It would have been an error to look at the driver smugly and look away, as this could anger the other driver and give him the impression I am ungrateful.  Stirring up the anger of another driver due to the lack of a sensorimotor skill can put one in danger of the other driver retaliating.  Failing to put forth a sensorimotor skill when needed is in itself a sensorimotor error.


Driving Personality Makeovers


            One important concept in driving psychology is the notion of a driving personality makeover.  A makeover is a common cosmetic term for when a person renews his or her face in an effort to become more beautiful.  The term driving personality makeover builds upon this idea and describes a process by which a person redifines his or her driving personality in order to make it more beautiful, more harmonious with society, more responsible, and of course, safer.  In the previous generations of this course, students have designed driving personality makeovers for themselves, which improved their own driving and provided an example for others to follow by reading their accounts.  In this section of Report 1, the work of two students from previous generations on driving personality makeovers will be summarized and links to their reports will be provided.


            Dustin Telles from Generation 10 (Fall 1998) explains what a driving personality makeover is to him by analyzing the accounts of even earlier generations and combining them into his own definition.   He explains that it is a process by which one changes the way he or she thinks, feels, and acts while driving (modifying the three-fold self).  He says, “it would be the way a person helps themself to become a more considerate, law obeying and non aggresive driver.”  Dustin reports that a driving personality makeover consists of two parts, self-witnessing and behavior modification.  He clearly points out that to conduct a driving personality makeover one needs to exert substantial effort and take it seriously.  The process requires one to carry a notepad and/or tape recorder in the vehicle to assess their own driving behavior.  He says  that knowing and going with the norms of driving is a major goal of a driving personality makeover.  Carrying a tape recorder or notepad allows drivers to take note of what irritates them and what about their driving behavior needs to change.  Once these flaws are established, the driver can begin modifying his or her behavior and eventually the entire driving personality.  Dustin conducts a mini-experiment with himself wherein he modified his behavior of becoming angry when other drivers sped in front of him to exit the freeway.  He practiced entering and exiting the freeway for three hours and reminded himself when people sped in front of him that they probably have a reason for doing so and he doesn’t need to get angry at the other driver.  His passenger helped him keep focused at first, and then withheld assistance so he could practice on his own.  By the end of his experiment he had modified his behavior and now does not get angry when this happens to him.  He concludes, “I can let these people cut in front of me with no hostility what so ever.  So, I guess that it worked.”


            Corey Egami, a previous student of this course from Generation 11 (Spring 1999), explains that a driving personality makeover allows one to identify problematic driving behaviors and figure out a way to counteract impulses to drive badly.  He explains the steps to doing a driving personality makeover and says the first step is to identify the behavior one wants to change and then consciously modifying it.  He chose to work on his competitiveness while driving.  Corey would often race other drivers and perform dangerous moves that would aggravate other drivers.  He felt a need to get revenge when other drivers made mistakes and went out of his way to retaliate.  Upon receiving this assignment to do an experiment, he realized that when his girlfriend is with him he does not behave that way.  Then he realized it is no different if he is driving alone and that his behavior is still detrimental in any case.  With diligent practice he was able to calm his rage and drive more safely.  He began counting the number of times he drove competitively and reduced the number of times to over 20 daily to only 3 or 4 daily.  Taking note of how many times he was competitive and realizing how ridiculous his behavior was allowed him to become a more responsible driver.


Making Myself Over: An Experiment


            Speaking with cuss words can be positive or negative depending on the context of its use and the tone behind it.  There are times when cuss words can help express the true feeling of an idea by highlighting a certain part of a sentence.  Other times, cuss words can make others laugh when spoken correctly and expressed in a positive way.  Most of the music I listen to uses cuss words in both positive and negative ways and I personally find cuss words helpful for personal expression and very funny at times.  However, there are times when I know my cussing reinforces a negative frame of mind and it is those instances I wish to modify in my behavior.  The scope of this section of Report 1 is to design a driving personality makeover plan for myself, and so I will concentrate now on my negative cussing while driving and my experiment to change this behavior.  My cussing at other drivers, while it is rather controlled and subtle, reflects clear negative thoughts that I am having about other drivers.  My cussing at other drivers keeps me in a negative frame of mind and I designed a small experiment to change this behavior.


            When other drivers make mistakes on the road or drive in a way that is incompotent to me, it angers me slightly and I usually saw, “You bastard.”  I use other diss words all the time and vary my expression, but I tend to say bastard a lot in these cases.  I realize that this is a subtle driving behavior problem but it is a perpetuation of negative thoughts that I would prefer to do without.  So in order to reduce the amount of times I did this I took advice from students of previous generations and brought a notepad with me while driving.  Each time I cussed at another driver for any reason I marked it down on my pad.  I was amazed at how many times I would cuss at other drivers in a day.  After a few days of being conscious of my negative thinking and cussing and marking it down, I began to check myself when I started to have a negative thought about another driver.  At first I would still saw, “You bitch ass” but then say to myself, “Why is he a bitch ass?”  After a day of asking myself why I’m cussing at them, I was able to completely stop thinking negative thoughts in the first place.  Now, I still have negative thoughts and at times I do still cuss at other drivers, but it is not a norm of my driving behavior as it used to be.  I feel that my driving personality makeover was successful.  I want this change to perservere in the future of my driving so I continue to give myself positive reinforcement for not cussing negatively at other drivers and catching myself when I have a negative diss thought about other drivers.


Looking Into the Future


            This course in driving psychology has completely redefined the way I think about driving, what I notice about other drivers, and how I personally drive.  It has only been half a semester and already my driving style has noticably improved.  I do not mean that my driving style has ever severely problematic; however, this course has allowed me to work out the tweaks in my driving personality and become a supportive driver.  The insight that improving driving behavior is a lifelong endevour is perhaps the most important concept I have internalized from the course.  I am now striving every time I drive (which is rare, as I do not usually drive, but at times I do) to notice any negative thoughts or actions and modify them.  I am excited to when I will drive regularly again because I know I will be a very supportive driver. 


            Having studied driving psychology for half of a semester I now realize that driving is a lot more complicated than I ever knew.  Driving involves feelings and thoughts, and the way a person drives is largely a function of how emotionally intelligent he or she is.  Prior to taking this course, driving to me was simply the act of operating a motor vehicle.  I was slightly aware that a bad driver is usually poorly skilled, highly emotional, or both.  Now I can recognize that ones emotional state has a huge effect on their driving.  I also have learned that the current norms of driving are very inaccurate and dangerous, and the widespread education of driving psychology is essential for having safe roads in the future.


            To all students of future generations: do not procrastinate writing the material for your report, conducting your personal experiments, or learning how to do the necessary computer operations for the class.  Fortunately for me I have previous experience with web site publishing and was already familiar with FTP uploading and web design.  For others who are new to it all, just realize it is not as scary as it might seem.  Just pay close attention to detail and you should have no problem.  I recommend thinking about the content of the course often when driving around town or observing other drivers.  Driving is constantly surrounding us, so it is not difficult to think about the course material outside of class.  Begin working on your reports immediately.  Learn the syntax for web searching, such as the use of +’s and quotations, as it will make searching easier and more accurate.  Quotation marks will search for an entire phrase in the content of a web site, rather than simply the presence of all the words from the phrase in the content.  In other words, quotes will help you find sites that have the identical string of words, for example, “driving personality makeover.”


            The way this course is taught seems to be an excellent way to teach driving psychology to college students.  It is very interactive and demands that students carry out personal experiments and analyze their own driving behavior.  The checklists in the textbook help students understand their own errors and skills and recognize what areas they need to work on.  In this class we not only learn the principles and methods of driving psychology but actually become better drivers as students of the course.  It is a course on life at the same time as it is a course on driving, and for this reason it makes a positive impact on students that will stay with them forever.


My Home Page:


G24 Class Home Page: