Driving Psychology: Theory and Application

By: Shari Arakawa-Longboy




The course called Driving Psychology is about learning how to become a better driving. It is about changing our driving persona to an improved and better driving persona. In this course, students learn why people drive the way they do, how to change our driving behavior, and the external and internal factors that influence the way people drive. But most of all, this course teaches students how to understand the psychological mechanics of driving and how to apply it to ourselves. The basic mechanics of driving behavior begins with understanding the threefold self. I feel that this is the most important aspect of the course Ė because if we are unable to understand the mechanics involved in driving psychology, how can we begin to change our driving personas and moreover, how will we be able to teach this to other people? With learning the mechanics of driving psychology, we are better able to understand ourselves; thus we are able to apply the concepts to other situations.

I think the former generations really enjoyed this class. After reading what they had to say about the various aspects that they learned, I feel that the students particularly like the generational reports done in class. The students seemed to have learned a lot from each other during the presentations. Hearing someone elseís opinion on a topic or matter is always interesting and helpful to have a better understanding of what the point is.

To be a part of Generation 20 means a lot to me. When I signed up for this class, the last thing that expected was to actually feel proud that I am part of this newfound area of psychology. I did not believe in driving psychology and I thought that it was not a real psychology. Even though I have not completed the class yet, I realize the importance of driving psychology. Like most people, I never realized how dangerous driving can be and what a big part aggression and conditioning plays in driving. As I continue to learn more about driving psychology, I am proud to be able to teach my friends and family about it. Now, I feel that everyone should take a course in driving psychology because I think that it would really help people and society as a whole to learn how to reform their "bad habits" in driving.

Because I think generational reports is a good way for students to learn, I do not have any apprehensions about continuing generational reports. However, because I do not like orally presenting material and I am not comfortable with giving speeches, I would rather present my material over the internet, on a video, or in some other fashion.

The former generations wrote about a wide range of topics. They wrote about a number of driving psychology phenomena, their own experiences of driving, as well as their experiences of navigating the internet. There was a considerable amount of people who wrote about how aggression is a learned behavior as well as the three-fold-self.

Shane Akagi from generation 1 mentions an article written by Leigh Nakata that I found very interesting. In her article, Leigh wrote about how aggression is a learned behavior by children. Akagi pointed out in her article that most children are killed when they "dash out" onto the street and that most children who are killed are boys. He points out that Nakata says the reason for this is because boys are more aggressive than girls and are taught to play rougher. I really liked Akagiís report because I never thought how children get killed in auto accidents. Furthermore, it was interesting, but not surprising to find that boys get killed more often than girls in auto accidents because they are just more aggressive in nature and nurture. (www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/leonj/leonpsy/psy459a/akagi/akagi.html)

Another interesting topic that I found was written by Ryan Mitsui from generation 4. Ryan wrote about an incident he encountered involving tailgating. Although Ryan was the one who was doing the tailgating, it was very interesting to read about the things that were going through his mind while doing it. He talks about the rage he felt and how he wanted to punish the driver because the driver was driving reckless. I liked this story because I think everyone can relate to it. I know I can. While reading about his experience, I could feel his anger. However, I thought it was really ironic how he wanted to punish the other driver for driving reckless by driving reckless himself! (www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/leonj/459f96/rmitsui/home.html)

In generation 6, a student by the name of Chris Murakami wrote a very interesting report on how driving is a "social activity." I never thought of driving in terms of a "social activity," but if you really think about it, it really is. All motorists are participants of this social activity. Murakami also says that communication is necessary of any successful social activity. I think this is very true. In order to have a social activity, not only are participants required, but also good communication between participants is necessary. Without any form of communication between participants, the social activity will turn out to be a disaster. This is why Murakami said that it is when our communication on the road fails, that we often get into car accidents.

According to Murakami, communication between road users is a type of communication that is nonverbal. Every action that we make on the road, is a form of communication. When we signal to change lanes, when our brake lights come on, when we make eye contact with a pedestrian, we are communicating with other road users around us. The manipulation of a car, when speeding or slowing down, is a form of communication between other motorists on the road. It is essential for every road user to learn this so called "language" that we use on the road, but in order to do that, we need to be attentive to these special cues while driving.

There is one other aspect that I would like to point out that caught my attention while reading Murakamiís report. He said, "passengers are hidden victims in traffic accidents." He goes on to say that passengers are helpless and are at the mercy of the motorist. I find this to be very true. The driver has to have respect for the passenger and consider the how he/she is putting the passengerís life at risk when he/she drives recklessly. As a passenger, you only have so much control over the vehicle and the driver. Like Murakami pointed out, to what extent will the driver listen to the "back seat driver?" I do not feel that drivers take into consideration the responsibility they have on the passengerís life. There were many times when I was a passenger and scared for my life. As a reflex, I would tense up and try to brake even though there is no break pedal on the passengerís side! For additional information, see: www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/459ss97/chrismur/home.html



The topic of this course is Traffic psychology. This course teaches students why traffic psychology is essential to driving and why it is so important. It also teaches us how to become more aware of our own driving behavior and to modify it so that we become better drivers. Do not get me wrong, I did not sign up for this class because I thought I had a "driving problem." I do not think that any of the students thought that they were bad or aggressive drivers. But this course really opened my eyes to see the reality of my driving. It give you the basic tools that you need to become a better driver as well as to being more aware of your own driving behavior.

Why is traffic psychology so important you ask? Because there are over three million auto accidents per year and over fifty-two thousand deaths resulting from auto accidents every year. This is more than the amount of people who died in World War II!

What is traffic psychology? Traffic psychology is being able to understand your actions as a driver, being able to have control over your emotions, and being able to have patience and respect for others. It is understanding the three-fold self (see below), understanding how internal as well as external factors influence us as drivers, and being able to self-witness and modify yourself. One you have learned the principles of traffic psychology and internalized them, you will hence be able to apply these tools to other aspects of your life. Traffic psychology has two main goals: The first goal is to decrease the number of auto accidents per year and the second goal is improve the American character overall. Traffic psychology will give you the building blocks to become an overall better person because of the values that it instills.

Since this class first began, I started to pay more attention to my own driving behavior. I realized that I am a reckless driver and that I can be very aggressive while driving. I realized that I waste a lot of energy getting angry at the person who just cut me off, and that I actually put a lot of effort in trying to punish that driver for inconveniencing me. I also realized that I put a lot of other people at risk when I am weaving in and out of lanes just to get to my destination a minute or two faster. Because of the techniques that I have learned from traffic psychology, I am now able to change my driving behavior as well as my thinking. Instead of getting angry with the person and taking it personally, I try to think that maybe that person has an emergency or maybe he was unaware of how he effected me. The tools that have I learned from this class, also allows me to apply it to other situations. When someone bumps me while walking around at the mall, I do not get angry anymore. Why should I waste my energy getting angry with the person and stress myself out? I feel that I am a much calmer person now and in turn, I am a happier and healthier person because I do not have this additional stress that I was creating for myself all this time. I am very happy with my decision in taking this course. It has given me tools and insights that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Traffic Psychology is truly a life-long change.



The driverís threefold self:

The threefold self encompasses three domains of the driverís behavior: affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor. According to Chris Murakami, each of the three domains needs to be attended to individually in order to be able to modify oneís driving behavior.

The affective behavior is primarily made up of affections, emotions, motives, needs, and any goal-oriented actions. It is anything that we feel, want, or desire. An example of this is stopping at a red light. The driver stops at a red light not only because we are trained to stop at a red light, but also because his motive is to avoid getting into an accident. Affective behavior is important because if this motive was absent, the driver would have made an error by running the red light, which would have resulted in him getting into an accident, and then he would have definitely been caught.

 The cognitive behavior is the "understanding." It includes reasoning, decision making, cognitionís, and thoughts. It is anything that includes any kind of thought process. For example, when a driver sees a red light, he cognitively processes the red light, and he has a choice of stopping or running the red light. Cognitive behavior is probably the most important aspect of thee threefold self because of the fact that it has to do with deciphering right from wrong and choosing to make the right decision.

Sensorimotor behavior includes all experiences that incorporate sensory input and motor output (action). An example of this is when a driver stops at a red light. The psychomotor action requires the eyes, arms, hands, the leg, and the foot to all work together. It requires motor skills to step on the break just hard enough to stop at the line or to not hit the person in front of the driver.


Self-witnessing methodology:

Self-witnessing is one of the most important aspects of behavior modification. Self-witnessing is being able to truly witness yourself in every aspect as a driver. In order to do this, one has to be completely honest with the self. According to Dr. James, a regular practice of witnessing yourself in traffic is important and it will allow you to be able to see a deeper side of your emotional reactions and motives. Self-witnessing is a central tool for developing better self control and can free you from constant negative emotions that will in turn make you a healthier and happier person. One technique that is reported to be effective in self-witnessing is to say aloud whatever you are thinking or feeling while driving and to record it. Once you have recorded yourself, you can then analyze it and learn how you really are. In order to modify your driving behavior, you need to be able to self-witness.


Road Rage:

According to Dr. James and Dr. Nahl, road rage is defined as a habit of aggressive driving. http://www.drdriving.org/articles/driving_psy.htm Road rage is a result of losing our patience while driving and of having too much pride. Although there is no agreed upon definition of the term road rage, it is often used to refer to an extreme state of aggressive driving. Ikue Fukushima reported that road rage can take three different forms: Verbal, quiet, and epic. Verbal road rage consists of yelling, swearing, honking, insulting, and gesturing. Quiet road rage is complaining, rushing, competing, and resisting. Epic road rage is when we cut someone off, block someone out, chasing, fighting, and shooting. An example of epic road rage reported by Fukushima, is of a man who was hot at after he had honked at another car who passed him.


Aggressive driving legislation:

The Aggressive Driving Legislation is a way for states to reduce aggressive driving. It is specifically aimed at people who drive aggressively. There are several problems with these laws. First of all, many states have difficulty with defining what is "aggressive" driving. Because of this problem with defining aggressive driving, many bills have been killed. The second problem that the legislation faces is that in some states, the laws are often too vague to stand up in court, therefore making it more difficult to reinforce. A third problem that the states face is the definition gap that exists between the public and authority. According to Dr. Jamesís web site (www.aggressive.drivers.com/papers/james-nahl/james-nahl-paper.html), studies show that the general public does not consider a lot of what the legislation defines as aggressive driving. This in itself creates a problem because if the majority of the public does not feel certain acts are aggressive, it could result in a conflict between public norms and enforcement. The best way to implement these laws are to be as specific as possible.


The Driverís Emotional Intelligence:

According to Dr. James and Dr. Nahl, emotional intelligence is a means to have control over our emotions and to know what to do when we get emotionally aroused. When drivers are in the moment of being angry, our emotions have a power over us that alters our normal thinking, rationale, and judgement. Because of this, we are unable to think rationally, and our interpretations of signs and events are altered. He says that our rational thinking turns into "emotional thinking," which means that we are going from objective to subjective thinking. In DR. James book Road Rage and Aggressive Driving, he lists six components of emotional intelligence that can be learned: 1) How to reappraise a situation and look for alternative explanations, 2) How to self-regulate negative mood shifts, 3) How to empathize with "the other side,", 4) How to persist in a plan despite distracting frustration, 5) How to control or neutralize oneís aggressive impulses, 6) How to think with positive outcomes. This can all be found in his book on page 113.

Dr. James and Dr. Nahl say that the best way for drivers to protect themselves from getting emotional aroused, is to inhibit venting and to let the "excitatory endangerment response" to dissipate. There are two components that we need to learn in order to be successful at inhibiting venting. The first component is to learn relaxation techniques and the second component is to systematically observe our thinking. For more information on emotional intelligence, you can refer to page 112 in Road Rage and Aggressive Driving.


The Driverís Emotional Spin Cycle:

According to Afterschock from generation 16, the emotional spin cycle is found in everyone. It is comprised of two life arenas and two bridges (red and blue). The two arenas consist of the world and self as well as other people. The bridges can be used to modify the individual cycle by changing his/her behavior from negative to positive. The emotional spin cycle involves the way each individual reacts to daily events, which can either be in a positive manner or a negative manner. In any event, people have the power to choose how they want to act. It is up to the individual to choose to think and act positively whether than in a negative manner. Everyone has unpleasant emotions and getting upset from time to time is unavoidable, but what really matters is the way we choose to think and act. The mind is a powerful thing, and we can train our minds to operate in a positive way by using "bridging" techniques. If you would like more information on the emotional spin cycle, you can refer to www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/459s2002/afterschok/report1.html. Aftershock has a beautiful diagram on how the emotional spin cycle operates.


Lifelong driver education:

Lifelong driver education is aimed at implicating new skills, instilling values that should be fostered throughout life, providing children and adults with a wealth of knowledge, and shaping positive and responsible attitudes. Dr. James and Dr. Nahl suggest that parents play a crucial role in developing their childís attitude toward driving. Since parents are role models for their children, they should be aware of how they act while driving with their children present. From day one, children learn aggression from observation and through experience. Parents should tell their children starting from a very young age, that their aggressive acts while driving are wrong. They should tell their children that "mommy and daddy" should not have gotten upset at the mistakes that the other drive made. Lifelong driver education should start from while children are very young. Dr. James and Dr. Nahl say that we need to start educating children from ages eleven through fifteen and then follow up with them as they grow older.

People who already drive, hold certain beliefs that make them drive aggressively. On page 193 of Road Rage and Aggressive Driving, there is a list of the five beliefs that are commonly held by current drivers. In order eliminate aggressive driving, Dr. Larson believes that we need to diminish these common beliefs. Another way to reduce aggressive driving, is by learning self-taught techniques that help us reduce anger. Lifelong driver education courses need teach people how to have control over their emotions and what to do when a person is in a situation where he/she is upset. We, as drivers, need to know that other drivers are not out there to get us, specifically, upset. Motorists do not go out on the road and target people at random. Lifelong driver education course also need to teach people emotional literacy, how to be a supportive driver, and to keep in mind that the main goal of every driver should be to retain control over the vehicle and situation. It also needs to teach drivers that they have a responsibility not only to themselves, but also to their passengers as well as those around them. For more information on Lifelong Driver Education, please refer to chapter 9 of Road Rage and Aggressive Driving.

Theory of Driving

There are two components to the theory of driving. There is an external component and an internal component. An easy way to remember the theory of driving is to recall this formula: Disposition + situation = theory of driving.

The external forces (situation) of driving are the aspect that can be directly measured by instruments and observation. These forces include road conditions, the people around us, and vehicle manipulation. It consists of anything that is external to the driver Ė anything that does not include the driverís dispositions. For example, stop lights, signs, other motorists, and potholes would be considered external factors.

The internal forces of driving pertain to the driverís thoughts, emotions, cognitionís, perceptions, decisions, and verbalization. For example, when a driver sees a red light, he has to cognitively process this information and then make a decision to stop or to keep going. All of these things cannot be measured directly. Instead, the driver needs to make a self-report on his/her thoughts, perceptions, and cognitions. One good way of attaining this type of data is to say out loud whatever he is feeling or thinking and to record himself. For more information, click on this web-site: (http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/leonj/leonpsy/traffic/tpintro.html)

Automatization of Driving Behavior

After a person has spent a few weeks or months driving, the person gets used to driving and driving becomes a habituated behavior. What you do while driving and how you react to incidents while driving becomes an automatic behavior. Just as if you were to touch something hot, your automatic response would be to take your hand away. We develop these automatic responses and behavior through observational learning and through experience. We start to develop a concept of how we should drive from a very young age. We watch the way our parents drive and we copy it. When we start to learn how to drive, we develop these bad habits that become automatic to us. For example, driving with only one hand on the wheel or not signaling when we are changing lanes become automatic behaviors. Constantly scanning the road up ahead of us and looking in our rear view mirror becomes an automatic behavior that we do not even have to think about doing it. Knowing when to press on the break and how hard to press on the break come automatically to us when we drive. For more information, click on this web-site: (http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/leonj/leonpsy/traffic/tpintro.html)



When I was a little girl, my grandfather used to drive me around a lot. He was a very impatient driver and would always swear at other drivers. No matter where we went, he always had something to say about the other motorists. I used to think that it was funny and I would always think that my grandpa was right. When I was in intermediate school, my father used to drive me to school. There would always be a lot of traffic in the mornings driving from Waipahu to town. I remember that he would change lanes frequently and he would also drive in the shoulder lane where you are not supposed to drive. My dad always got me to school on time no matter what time we left the house.

When I first started to drive, I was cautious because I was afraid to drive even though I could not wait to drive. But as driving became automatic to me, I began to drive like my father and grandfather. I did not think that anything was wrong with this Ė in fact, I thought that it was smart to drive the way my father did and that every driver swore at other drivers!! Through observational learning, I had learned to drive aggressively and because my grandfather always had a "thing" about being on time, the fastest way to get to my destination was always the best way.

Movies also had an influence on the way I drove. When I watched Fast and The Furious, I thought it was the coolest thing! I wanted to be like Lenny in the movie Ė racer girl who I thought just looked so cool. My boyfriend at the time (who is now my husband) had a Honda Accord that was dropped, fully loaded with rims, exhaust, intake, and so forth. Furthermore, it was standard. I always got to drive his car and whenever I did, I would often get called on to race on the freeways and because I thought Fast and The Furious was a really cool movie, I would race the other drivers. Sometimes, I would be the one to rev my motor at other cars!

My husband also had a big influence on the way I drive. Even though I am often scared to death when he drives, I often myself driving exactly the way he does Ė to a certain degree! He cannot stand slow drivers and he is always trying to punish those who inconvenienced him. When I make comments to him about the way he drives, he gets very defensive and does not realize how reckless of a driver he is.

As an experienced driver, I used to feel that I was a really good driver. I used to think that if everyone drove like me, then driving would be so much better. I thought that I was a cautious driver even though I would speed, overtake people, and weave in and out of lanes. Sometimes I would not use my blinker when changing lanes or turning and I always thought that this was okay. I would often get upset at other drivers and would swear up a storm in my car. In certain situations, I would even roll down my window and yell at the other driver. Despite all of this, I still thought that was an above average driver.

Once I took this class, I realized that I was a terrible driver and that I might even need anger management counseling. From self-witnessing techniques, I realized that as I a driver, I was not in control of myself, and that if I was not in control of myself, how could I be in control of my vehicle? I was not aware of the power that my emotions had over me and furthermore, I was not aware of how that effected my daily activities and relationships with other people. Because I had let my emotions take over me while driving, I was such an angry and stressed person throughout the day. I realized that this really took away from the quality of my life. The stress that I accumulated while fifteen or twenty minutes of driving, affected me throughout the whole day! I realized that I did not need this added stress and that it was up to me if I wanted to be this way. I also realized that a big part of my driving personality was greatly influenced by those who used to drive me around Ė that I developed these habits from watching my grandfather, father and my husband.

The bottom line is that I finally woke up and realized that I really needed to change my driving persona. I learned that just because other people influenced my driving behavior, it does not mean that I have to drive that way. I have a choice to drive reckless or not. I have a choice to think positively or negatively, just as I have a choice to get angry. It is all about having control over myself. So when I ask myself "do I want to have control over myself or do I want others to have control over me Ė the answer is " I want to be the in control." In order to do this, I learned that I first have to admit to myself that I am a horrible driver and that I have to want to change.

Ever since then, I have tried to implement the techniques that Dr. James has offered. Now, when I drive, I am a lot less aggravated by other drivers. I try not to take the other driversí actions personally and I try to think that maybe the other driver is late for a meeting or that he has an emergency. I try to allow myself more than enough time to get to my destination and when I am stuck in traffic, I take deep breaths and I tell myself that everyone else here is trying to get somewhere to.

As an experiment, I tried to listen to different types of music to see if it had any effect on me. I found that listening to soft rock or soothing music really helps. But if I listened to alternative, rock or rap music, I get agitated faster. I think that the kind of music that you listen to while driving does have an impact on you and that maybe other people should try this.


This assignment put driving in a whole different perspective for me. Because defining the terms required a lot of reading and research, I really learned a lot from this assignment. It got me to think a lot about myself and about the kind of role model I want to be for my younger siblings. This has really helped me to see the bigger picture and to better understand how everyone on the roads effect each other. I feel that the material I have learned from this assignment is very useful to myself and can be useful to other people as well. It is useful because it offers a broader picture of everything effects the driver. Because this has made me understand myself better as a driver, I can now help other people to change their driving persona. If I were unable to understand myself in terms of driving, how would I be able to take this material outside of the classroom and teach it to my peers and family?

This approach can have a big impact on society. If legislation would take the time learn the material that Dr. James has given us, they would know how to implement laws and know what needs to be implemented in driver education courses. Yeas, it is true that people do not like change, but if those in power would start tightening up the laws and reinforcing it, people would be forced to change. Society is always changing and people somehow find a way to cope with it Ė I am sure that they will find a way to cope with this change! In fact, this type of change would not only better society as a whole, but it would better the personal lives of each individual. People would be so much happier and their quality of their lives would change for the better. I am still not a totally reformed driver, but I can already feel the affects from the concepts I have learned. I plan to continue modifying my behavior as a driver because I can see how much less stress I have and I see the people around me being happier. As a driver on its way to becoming a reformed driver, I am daring you to change.

Future Generations:

As a student who is currently in this class, I can honestly tell you that the tools you will learn from this class is priceless. When I first took this class, I was kind of unsure about it because I thought, "what could this class possibly teach me what I donít already know?" But as the semester progressed, I found that there was A LOT that I did not know. Dr. James really puts things in a whole different perspective and I am sure that you will see things from a whole different angle. For instance, I bet that I did not know there are over fifty-two thousand deaths each year resulting from auto accidents! And Iíll bet you that before you took this class, you thought you were a good driver, huh!?

A word of advice:

Do the reading, follow the schedule, and be on top of things!! DO NOT wait until the last minute and follow the instructions!!


My home page: www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/409as2004/arakawa-longboy/homepage.htm

My file: www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/409as2004/arakawa-longboy

G20Home Page: www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/leonj/leonpsy20/g20classhome.html

Additional sites: http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/leonj/leonpsy/traffic/tpintro.html


Generations: www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/leonj/leonpsy/gc/generations.html