Social Influences On Driving



PSY409a: Report 5

By: Angela Park, Sheena Casaquit, Abigail Huliganga

Spring 2008, Generation 27


Section 1: Class Lecture


Lecture Notes are from Chapter 8 in Road Rage & Aggressive Driving by Dr. Leon James and Dr. Diane Nahl and Chapter 13 of Driving Lessons by Jorge Frascara


Aggressive Driving, is it an abuse?

Aggressive driving, it is one thing that we see every day.  People tailgating, yelling obscenities to one another, running red lights, speeding—behaviors that are dangerous to other drivers and even pedestrians.  Aggressive driving is an abuse.  Although it may be difficult to accept aggressive driving as an abuse, it really is harmful weapon used on the road.  When someone is driving aggressively, it harms other people, including passengers, by putting them in danger.  Being aggressive has been accepted in our culture by the media and video games that we have become desensitized by these bad habits. 


The Three Types of Drivers

In this week’s lecture, we take a look into the different levels of the way people drive: oppositional, defensive and supportive.  Looking into these three philosophies, we are able to look at the different types of thinkers on the road including an ideal type of driver, the supportive driver.


Oppositional Driving Philosophy

This is the most common type of driver.  These are the most aggressive personalities on the road.  They are the type of driver that believes that it is at fault of the other driver if there is an accident, quick to retaliate and can be very rebellious against legitimate authority.  Oppositional thinkers react before thinking and can be very hostile to other drivers.  Common phrases include “They shouldn’t be allowed to drive!” or “Don’t mess with me!”


Defensive Driving Philosophy

These types of drivers have more awareness of the other drivers but still feel as if they are the only important driver on the road.  They are not as aggressive as the oppositional driver but are predictive of other drivers.  They are competitive, stereotypical of other drivers and often keep their feelings inside leaving them feeling dissatisfies, stresses and resentful.  Common phrases include, “They’re all in the way” or “They’re all selfish people”. 


Supportive Driving Philosophy

This philosophy also known as altruistic driving is the most ideal type of driving style.  People who drive this way are supportive of other drivers, understanding that mistakes are made and not to hold a grudge.  They also believe in sharing the road with others, understanding that every driver has the right to use the road.  They do not take negative comments that may be said to them personally and believe in driver self improvement.  Becoming a supportive driver is the ideal because adopting these philosophies allows the driver to calmly understand what is happening on the road and react in a way that is not harmful to themselves as well as others.  By developing an understanding and empathy of the other people who use the road, driving can be less of an abuse and more of a safe atmosphere for people to drive.


What can be done to have more supportive drivers?

On page 208 in Driving Lessons, Jorge Fransca recommends a communication campaign strategy that aims to reduce risks on the road.  These are his adjectives:


  • ON RISK: Reducing the social value of risk taking and to teach risk perception and risk reduction skills.
  • ON PERCEPTION OF REALITY: Increasing road users’ ability to assess their driving skills properly and understand the car’s ability to maneuver and the severity of the risks faced.  In class, Dr. James brought up a good point regarding the importance of teaching this skill.  In driving education, students are not taught the effects of drinking and driving.  Many young adults do take the risk of driving under the influence because they do not know the effects of alcohol with the way the drive.  Implementing an education program to show how driving drunk could result in danger, either by simulation, videos or pictures of alcohol related crashes could reduce the risk of people driving under the influence. 
  • ON PERSONAL VALUE VERSUS THE VALUE OF THINGS: Persuading people to value themselves independently from their car and driving style.  For example, some people develop a different personality or feel that they are allowed to do things based on what kind of car they drive.  Some people who own sports cars feel that since their car has more power and speed they should utilize it on the road. 
  • ON THE VALUE OF RESPONSIBILITY: To promote the ideas that driving is a responsible act and that responsible driving has a high social value.  Driving is a synchronized event.  When the red light flashes, we stop so the opposite side of traffic can go.  When we signal to get into another lane, other cars are expected to keep their distance until we are able to move in.  Everything we do on the road, we are responsible for.  This includes the responsibility of other driver’s safety as well.
  • ON COMPETITION VERSUS COOPERATION: Discouraging competitiveness and aggressiveness in driving and to encourage cooperation toward a better traffic flow.
  • ON THE EMOTIONAL COMPONENT OF DRIVING:  To reduce the emotional involvement that dangerous drivers invest in driving.  We must not take things personal on the road.  We need to develop an understanding that people make mistakes, and that retaliating in anger only makes things worse. 


Section 2: Class Readings


Driving Lessons: Chapter 13: Revisiting communications and traffic safety


Traffic collisions are a major burden for human life and public administration. Here are some statistics that support this fact:

  • 51, 3000 people died in road crashes in Canada in the last decade
  • 2, 342, 300 were injured, many permanently disabled


Injury research expenditures are estimated at $160 million for fiscal year 1987 compared with expenditures for cancer research by the National Cancer Institute of $1.4 billion. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute spent $930 million for cardiovascular research in fiscal year 1987.


Wars make headlines but interestingly enough, “if every war since 1776 is taken together, no instrument of death- flintlock, repeating rifle, machine gun, tank, plane or bomb- has resulted in as many American fatalities as has the motor vehicle. From 1910 to 1985, there were more than 2.5 million traffic fatalities” (National Committee for Injury Prevention and Control, p. 118).


Here are more statistics that support this fact:

  • In 1991, 23,500 people died in car crashes in the US
  • 1,600,000 suffered disabling injuries
  • Of these, 130,000 were left with permanent impairments


In addition to human suffering, the cost of traffic crashes is enormous. The direct cost in the US for 1991 was $96.1 billion, for vehicle damage and uninsured work loss.


The Communicational Power of Driving

Driving equals power. People of often times get so caught up in the activity of driving and take it for granted by thinking that driving is a right rather than a privilege. People use things without consciousness of the needs of others or the processes of production. Having the access to things gives us the feeling of freedom and power.


From a business point of view, use generates consumption, which generates business. Promoting the use of the car is priority for the automobile industry. People must fulfill deeply felt needs in order to promote that idea. Driving must be glamorous and on top of the game, anything less would result in less demand.


People, Business and Governments

People are moving to more complex systems of decisions therefore, reaching a substantial amount of people to implement change is difficult. Businesses will only agree to envisions if they see an advantage and with the support of others. A revision of traffic culture finds that responsibility is not a strong sentiment compared to individual rights. The majority of drivers drive very well.

  • 3,500 injuries per year, in a universe of over 120,000 drivers
  • About 3% are involved in a collision every year
  • 1.7% are at fault rather than victims


There are two types of drivers:

  • Frequently appears in collisions
  • Occasionally appears, usually as a victim


Responsibility in the use of the car is perceived as negative. In order to make it acceptable, it must be connected to a value that people hold dearly. The challenge and opportunity consist of shifting the meanings of concrete actions, so that driving responsibly becomes a source of feelings of freedom, control and power.


Ethics and Communication

Every situation of human communication falls within the field of ethics. In ethical communications, one communicates with someone about something: one does not communicate something with someone.


The Active Viewer

Using the language of the audience is not enough: the audience has to speak. People seem to have lost the notions of willpower and discipline, and the ability to make choices and efforts. Without an active viewer there cannot be an active citizen, there cannot be active understanding of responsibilities and rights, and there cannot be active understanding of a revision of anything. Good practices bring about good citizens.


The Structure of the Communicational Engagement

In order to conceive of ways in which a revised idea of driving could be promoted among others we must:

  • Review our own process of change of perspective
  • Arrive at a new conception through reflection
  • Exchange information and discussions in a partnership that occurs within a shared cultural value system


To implement changes in an area that provides people with a feeling of self-worth, we need to offer something important in exchange. We need to offer positive cultural values for the behavior we promote, to the very people we want to reach. People are selective concerning what they want to fear and what outrages them.


Communications, Individuals and Relevance

It is important to create a common field of relevance in any group. Without perceived relevance, there is no communication. Communication comes to exist on the basis of intention; without both parties being intentionally connected, there is no hope for change-generating communication.


Research done before the development of the Australian traffic-safety campaign:

  • Don’t concentrate solely on twisted metal
  • Don’t overdo statistics
  • Don’t lecture
  • Do be as shocking as you like
  • Do be as emotional as possible
  • Do ensure that they come away from any communication thinking “that could happen to me”


Reaching People

Penetrating the public agenda is not easy, but there are several ways. One is the top down bottom approach. The way to work from the ground up is to begin with the immediate community.


Change of Behaviors, Change of Attitudes

Two things should be clear: Communication was not all; enforcement supported the change. The first and most important problem created by language in the universe of car-related horror is the word accident. It implies a chance occurrence and frees everybody from responsibility. When norms are stereotyped, they develop into an aesthetic; that is, functional actions become loaded with a sense of the beautiful, the ugly and the desirable.


Understanding and Acting

Understanding is a cognitive process; acting is a social process. The idea must affect people’s knowledge, attitude and behavior in order to succeed.


Road Rage: Chapter 8: Supportive Driving


Supportive driving is an accommodating style that emphasizes adjusting to the great diversity of highway users and steering clear of the emotional entrapments of road rage thinking. Not all drivers can be treated alike. Supportive drivers must accommodate them by accepting the reality of unfamiliar drivers and adjusting their driving to suit the situation. Less experienced drivers make more mistakes and can be less predictable.


Two methods to deal with highway pluralism and diversity:

  • Oppose driver pluralism, to denounce it, and to strive to ban diversity
  • The more democratic approach accommodates to the diversity of driver needs and purposes.


Cultivating an attitude of latitude toward other drivers:

  • Helps contain road rage
  • Reduces stress
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Fosters community spirit
  • Protects from emotional or physical injury
  • Protects from financial liability


Motorists-to-Motorist Communication

Drivers must constantly keep track of each other in order to avoid collisions. The National Motorists Association proposed seven new motorist signals:

  • Apology
  • Slow down, danger ahead
  • Lane courtesy
  • Pull over for problem
  • Light problem (Check your lights)
  • Need assistance
  • I understand (Thank you)


Training for Supportive Driving

Supportive driving focuses on facilitating other drivers’ efforts to accomplish what they want instead of competing against them. If you adopt and practice a supporting driving lifestyle you’re protected from the road rage of other drivers because you’re committed to putting up the least sail in their angry wind.


Come Out Swinging Positive

Three philosophies that determine how people drive:

  • Level one: Oppositional driving philosophy
  • Level two: Defensive driving philosophy
  • Level three: Supportive driving philosophy


Article 10: The Theory of Risk Homeostasis


A homeostatic engineering device is modeled after processes that naturally occur in living organisms, and any engineered device is likely to be much less complex, less resourceful and adaptive. Living organisms learn from past experience, so they never behave in exactly the same way from one point in time to another.


The Target Level of Risk

When the expected benefits of risky behavior are high and the expected costs are perceived, as relatively low, the target level of risk will be high. The target level of accident risk is determined by four categories of motivating factors:

  • The expected advantages of comparatively risky behavior alternatives
  • The expected costs of comparatively risky behavior alternatives
  • The expected benefits of comparatively safe behavior alternatives
  • The expected costs of comparatively safe behavior alternatives


Homeostasis is a process, not an outcome, let alone an invariant outcome. Expressions such as "partial homeostasis", "exact homeostasis”, incomplete homeostasis" and similar ones that have cropped up in a dozen or so years of "the great risk homeostasis debate" make very little sense.


The Perceived Level of Risk

Subjective accident risk is not to be viewed as the result of an individual's explicit multiplication of probability and severity estimates, but as a more global notion representing the degree of danger felt by the individual. Moreover, the monitoring of risk need not be focal in the person's conscious awareness, just as human beings are usually unaware of their body temperature, hunger or thirst, heart rate, level of psycho-physiological arousal, or ambient light conditions when reading, and so forth.


The level of traffic accident risk that is perceived by the individual person at any moment of time derives from three sources: the person's past experience with traffic, the person's assessment of the accident potential of the immediate situation, and the degree of confidence the person has in possessing the necessary decision-making and vehicle-handling skill to cope with the situation.


The Resulting Accident Toll

The first implication of this reasoning is that, at any point in time where the past accident rate is lower than the level of risk that people are willing to accept, road users will subsequently adopt a riskier manner and/or amount of mobility. The second implication is that they will do the opposite when the past record, and the personal experience associated with it, exceeds the preferred or target level of accident risk.


Skills that Influence Road-User Behavior

There are three types of skill that have an effect on the level of risk perceived and the action performed: perceptual skills, decision-making skills and vehicle-handling skills.


Article 10: (b) The Social Psychology of Driving


I.                   Introduction

a.       Metaphors

                                                              i.      They help us experience facts

                                                            ii.      Viewing social behaviors through them help see new connections and new lines of inquiry

b.      Dangers of driving

                                                              i.      60 mph in thousands of pounds of steel separated from the road by a few rubber pieces

                                                            ii.      The importance of staying within your “common mind” in such a dangerous context

c.       Identity

                                                              i.      The driver’s license gives us a sense of identity in the “adult road”

                                                            ii.      “Graduates” young adolescents into adults with privileges

d.      Links

                                                              i.      Conformity and deviance;

                                                            ii.      You are what you drive: Vehicular presentations of self;

                                                          iii.      The "realities" of the road: How society shapes consciousness and decision-making;

                                                          iv.      Symbolic interactions;

                                                            v.      Road roles;

                                                          vi.      Driving and the Life-cycle

                                                        vii.      Social Solidarities Spawned

                                                      viii.      Collective behavior.

II.                Conformity, Deviance, and the Normative Order

a.       Focusing on Others

                                                              i.      In order to successfully reach our destinations, we must calculate the behaviors

1.      This is also called “Emotional Intelligence”.

                                                            ii.      This is different from controlling others’ behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.

1.      This is called “Social Power”.

                                                          iii.      The equation for our life and our behaviors depend on the equations of others.

1.      A very complicated process which may explain for humans’ large brains.

2.      This is why we get so angry when drivers don’t act the way we predict.

a.       When a driver signals right, but doesn’t change lanes or turn accordingly.

b.      Mechanisms of Social Control of Interest to Sociologists

                                                              i.      internalized moralities: "I never exceed 55 mph because that's not right and because there is an energy crisis;"

                                                            ii.      failure to even consider deviant courses of action: "I have never driven in reverse on an Interstate freeway because the notion never occurred to me;"

                                                          iii.      fear of political sanction: "I better slow down because there's a police car ahead and I cannot afford another speeding ticket;"

                                                          iv.      and other-directedness: "Everyone is going faster than me. I guess I can speed up."

c.       Driver Behavior

                                                              i.      Social psychological connections between types of drivers, the vehicles in which they are attracted to, and the ways in which they are driven.

                                                            ii.      According to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, driver deaths (1994-1997) were 89 per million registered vehicle drivers.

                                                          iii.      Low ends were Infiniti (20) and Toyota Camry (37) while high ends were Geometro (209) and Chevy Camaro (308).

III.             Road Roles

a.       Driver Identities

                                                              i.      Driver’s license gives status and identity to people; thus driving is not a simple behavior trying to get from Point A to Point B, but ways in which to obtain attention and develop their social identity.

1.      Adolescents “cruising” with no real purpose or destination.

2.      Hispanics driving slow in their “lowrider”.

3.      The American Automobile and Generations

                                                            ii.      A special area of intrigue for social scientists are the people who behave in predictable ways. (i.e. Good Samaritan)

b.      The Life Cycle of the Driver Roles

                                                              i.      Driver’s Perceptions and Decision Making

1.      Driving becomes a habitualized behavior governed by traffic rules, lights, and norms of other drivers. Our range of potential behaviors in the road become narrowed to what is acceptable and unacceptable.

2.      Each lane of traffic has own “characters”

a.       Drivers putting on makeup.

b.      Drivers listening to morning radio dj’s.

c.       Drivers scarfing down their breakfast.

d.      Drivers who are deviants in right lane.

3.      We base our decisions on other drivers.

a.       “The man in the  Mercedes on his cell phone and reading has higher accident potential.”

b.      “The man in front of me is an elderly man. I’ll cut him off.”

4.      We also take into consideration how we appear to others.

a.        “Does my dented rear-end signal to others I’m a bad driver?”

b.      “Does my flame painted car signal that I’m a rebellious driver?”

5.      Other factors also affect traffic.

a.       Rain storms or other natural disasters.

b.      Big trucks that block roadways.

6.      Automobiles carry significance and meaning for our social identities.

a.       Mobility, independence, autonomous status.

b.      For the rich, the expensive quality of their cars symbolize status.

                                                            ii.      Languages of the Road

1.      Victim Visibility as an Inhibitor of Horn Honking Aggression in Traffic

c.       Social Solidarities Spawned

                                                              i.      Would social solidarities between social members be affected if cars and roadways were taken out of the picture?

1.      Especially automotive clubs and organizations

2.      Yahoo's listing of groups based on make of automobile ownership

d.      Collective Behavior

                                                              i.      MADD: Mothers Against Drunk Drivers

                                                            ii.      Coalition for Livable Streets

                                                          iii.      Tell car makers to make cleaner-air vehicles! (i.e. Earth on Empty, Don't Be Fueled)

                                                          iv.      Highway Protests

1.      French transport workers to strike: protesters against rigs being parked across highways.


Section 3: Exercises


a) Summary and b) Interpretation

            The team that presented Exercise Set 9 had a very interesting topic. They were asked to watch and analyze Youtube clips on driving in traffic in different cultures, car accidents, car stunts. The first presenter showed one clip that was especially memorable: the clip from driving in India. The cars were weaving in and out in both directions all while pedestrians and bikers were dodging them. The presenter pointed out that although their driving seemed much crazier than the U.S.A., and although they didn’t have nearly as many traffic regulations, the accident rates were no higher than the U.S. It was also pointed out that despite the perceived craziness, there wasn’t any aggression or road rage displayed. This tied in with Dr. James’ lecture about how road rage and aggressive driving is culturally and socially formed. We as the current generation of aggressive drivers continue this cyclical curse by training the younger generations in the “road rage nursery” (i.e the backseat of the car) to behave likewise. Another important clip shown was a snippet from a video game. The violence and aggression displayed through the animations were horrible and it’s easy to see why there are opinions out there that video games are only intensifying the road rage in the players.

            The second presenter showed a clip on a couple car accidents. She noted that despite the horrific topic of crashes, injuries, and deaths, the youtube users seemed to love watching these clips. Also, the viewers went as far as commenting insensitive remarks about how certain crashes weren’t “that bad” or that the victim of the car accident “had it coming.” Being that in this day and age of technological advancements and realistic special effects, we as a society love to see things blow up. We thus tend to view these youtube clips as entertainment rather than viewing them from the perspective of trying to minimize road rage and accidents. We have been trained by our culture to view aggressive driving or attitudes as “the norm”. The last clip she showed was on a car company putting their car through stunts that seemed to increase the attractiveness and desire that the youtube viewers had for this brand. This only re-emphasized that even though the normal person would never have a need for a car that could do those stunts, we like the idea or the “rush” of knowing that our vehicle is capable of such socially impressive moves.

c) Better Justification/Amplification

            Some of the video clips presented were entertaining, but the presenters spent more time explaining their reactions to the clips rather than tying the underlying concepts to the course. Perhaps the second presenter could have prepared some startling statistics on accidents to show the severity of the problem despite the nonchalance of the youtube viewers. Also, she could have presented statistics on how many people go to watch car stunt shows or something of that nature to show how popular this “sport” is. They could have focused more on the cultural conditioning of these topics (i.e. exploring the concept of homeostasis).


d) Success

            Being that the exercises called for youtube clips, the presenters did a great job by going through the trouble of borrowing the projector to show the class the clips. Without the clips, it would’ve been very difficult for the class to follow along with what they were saying. It was also refreshing to hear a lot of their own personal opinions and reactions to the clips because it showed two things: the opinion of a “typical” young American driver and the opinion of a person with some knowledge of the psychology of driving. This allowed a very well-rounded and in depth analysis to take place of each clip.


e) Improvements for Instructions

            The instructions were very specific and detailed yet left enough room for open analysis, interpretation, and choice of the video clips. No improvements necessary in my opinion.


f) Limitations

            I’ve always been convinced that there is practically nothing that you can type that won’t produce a plethora of youtube clips. Being that YouTube presents us with such an abundant amount of resources on different aspects of driving, it’s hard to think of any significant limitations. The first part of the exercises had a specific list of clips to view so perhaps there were some limitations for that problem being that the presenter couldn’t venture off and find their own relevant clips. However, the second exercise was open for the presenter to pick any related clip he/she wanted. That part definitely was open-ended with very little limitations.


g) Own Personal Attempt

            I actually was one of the presenters for this exercise set so parts “a” and “b” were my own findings. To just make a couple more notes, I was actually very surprised that there were so many clips on such a gory and dark topic such as car accidents. The youtube viewers definitely didn’t see the clips as real life tragedies (although they were real life instances), but more as movies or forms of entertainment. They seemed to go around viewing a bunch of clips and comparing them to other gory clips. They even went as far as commenting the exact time of their favorite parts (typically more gory or more dangerous than the rest) so that other viewers could watch them too. It was sad to see how our society could view such a serious topic as almost fictional (as if they weren’t real) and as something to pass the time with, not something to figure out a solution for.


Section 4: Annotated Weblinks

1.      Paradise Also Has Traffic Issues

This is a video submitted by a motorcycle rider here in Hawaii that videotapes his riding experiences.  Labeled as “88hawaii”, he has several segments where he vents about his traffic frustrations on Oahu.  In this particular you tube video, he talks about the traffic problems he faces including his frustration with drivers not knowing how to merge properly. 


2.      Mazda Racing Commercial

This web link is to show how car commercials mainly focus on advertising for speed.  This Mazda commercial shows how the Mazda cars are also used in racing cars.  Advertising for this particular car company illustrates how it convinces consumers to buy based on speed (not a useful aspect of a car because we have speed limits) and not on practicality. 


3.      Crazy Filipino Driver

This a video to show how Filipino drivers drive in the Philippines.  Although the actual title of this video is called “crazy Filipino driver needs the bathroom” it shows how the driver weaves in and out of the road without getting into an accident. The driver is moving at a very high speed and even gets very close to other cars. It also shows how other drivers in the Philippines drive together.  


4.      Driving Tips from Driving Experts

This web link provides various tips and suggestions provided by driving experts from around the world.  This site is interesting because it offers suggestions from many different places indicating that aggressive driving is a worldwide problem, not just in the United States.  All are great tips that may help someone become a better, supportive driver on the roadways. 


5.      Positive Coping Tactics & Other driving tips

This site is based in the United Kingdom called  It offers a link looking at different driving issues and examines these problems and offers helpful ways of dealing with them.  One notable piece of information is the positive coping tactics that they provide such as not retaliating at other drivers. 


6.      American Institute for Public Safety

This is a great site regarding information on driving.  It does a great job in providing educational materials to drivers of all ages.  It even provides links to videos and several television channels concerning road rage and other traffic related problems. 


7.      Hawaii’s Courteous driving jamming traffic?

Today’s exercises focused on “crazy” driving in different parts of the world and found this article that looked into Hawaii’s courteous driving style.  The video shown today about driving in India, showed how traffic was able to move at a fast pace without getting into an accident a style very different to here in the islands where being nice to other drivers seems to cause another traffic problem: congestion.  Which then is better? Fast, crazy, and all for one driving? Or is slow and courteous the way to go?


8.      12 Steps to Being a Safer Driver

This web link is from Britain that offers a 12 step pledge in becoming a safer driver on the road.  I chose this link because I felt that it could help one become a more supportive driver on the road.


9.      Facts about Driving Risks

This was a good link to include because includes facts associated with driving risks.  In lecture, we discussed reducing risks on the road and this web link offers facts in driving drowsy, speeding, driving impairments and safety belt information all in hopes of raising awareness of these problems.


10.   Penalties for Driving Drunk

Many people when they get into their cars and drives under the influence are unaware of the dangers they are putting themselves and others into.  This link takes a look at the different consequences one may face when they drink and drive.