My Report 2 on:
Definitions of Traffic Psychology-How I Stack Up
Chris Murakami, G6


Table of Contents


What is Traffic Psychology?

What is Traffic Psychology? To put it simply, Traffic Psychology is the study of traffic and the effect it has on the driving behavior of all road users. A chief function of Traffic Psychology is that it serves to enlighten us. Traffic Psychology allows us retrain individuals in re-establishing their rational thoughts amid potential conflicts. Further more, this discipline allows us then to rethink and ponder the consequences of our actions and those of others.

Initially, I had no idea that there was a field of study in Traffic Psychology. Once I was exposed to the concepts of this field, I began to become more aware of my driving inadequecies. I began to notice examples of bad driving behavior on our road ways, and in television shows and the movies. Once presented with this new knowledge, I sought to change my own behavior for the better. Traffic Psychology principles would functions as a learning tool for me. This discipline offers an opportunity for a complete behavioral introspection which ranges from initial self awareness, to ultimately, the modification of abberant behaviors.

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Three Domains of Driving Behavior

A major principle of Traffic Psychology, or cornerstone if you will, is the Three Domains of Driving Behavior. Driving behavior, or any behavior for that matter, is comprised of the following three domains: the Affective, the Cognitive, and the Sensorimotor. The Affective domain corresponds to an individual's feelings and motivations. The Cognitive domain to the judgement or thoughts that an individual has. The Sensorimotor domain encompasses the individual's sensory inputs (auditory, visual) and motor output (actions). These Three Domains of Driving Behavior need to be attended to individually in order to achieve a behavior modification. Other psychological principles and techniques can be applied in facilitating this change (e.g. self-witnessing).

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Definitions of Traffic Psychology

Presented below are excerpts and links to 5 other students from previous Traffic Psychology generations. Their perspectives will help to provide an all-encompassing, broader definition of the concept of Traffic Psychology.

  • Lori Kim
  • Lori Kim defines Traffic Psychology as a way of examining thoughts and behaviors in "traffic situations." She adds that these traffic situations include bicyclists and pedestrians, in addition to motorists. Ms. Kim then goes on to discuss the difficulties in which individuals have spotting their own bad behaviors and then finding out why that behavior occurs. Traffic Psychology techniques such as using a Driving Buddy would help in providing a "reality check" or "second opinion" on one's driving skills. In conjunction with the input provided by the Driving Buddy, a Driving Personality Makeover can be conducted in an effort to change unsavory characteristics.

  • Raenee Yamashiro
  • Raenee Yamashiro gives a brief history on the new field of Traffic Psychology. She discusses it's beginnings in the early 1980s under the guidence of Dr. Leon James. Ms. Yamashiro speaks of "behavioral changes" as being the focus of Traffic Psychology. Basically, she states that Traffic Psychology examines the motorists in search of reasons for their roadway actions.

    Traffic Psychology offers the opportunity for a journey into one's own psyche to help determine "why i do what i do?" However, it does not stop merely at providing an explanation for the problem, but also how these individuals can change their detrimental behaviors. I find this cause-effect-solution approach to be very important in helping recognize and repair potentially hazardous behavior.

  • Jae Isa
  • Jae Isa defines traffic psychology as "having the ability to explain other traffic phenomena" and also possessing the potential to "help develop better, safer, and more realistic traffic laws and regulations." She goes on to say that Traffic Psychology is a discipline that goes past the statistics and searches for the reasons for the causes of traffic related problems. Due to this introspective nature of Traffic Psychology, I concur with Jae's assertion that this discipline may help to provide explanations for the occurance of various traffic phenomena such as aggressive driving/road rage.

    Jae states the purposes of Traffic Psychology as follows: 1) "decreasing the amount of auto accidents and traffic fatalities", and 2) to "improve the American character." I agree with these goals totally. I believe them to be reasonable and attainable. Through the use of various Traffic Psychology techniques such as Quality Driving Circles, Self-Witnessing techniques, and Driving Personality Makeovers. Traffic Psychology has the potential to save thousands of lives. These practices need not stop at the borders of the United States. Ideally, they should migrate to other continents such as Asia and Europe. This in turn could help save millions of lives world wide.

  • Phuong Wataoka
  • Phuong Wataoka discusses the interconnectedness between the driving personality makeover and Traffic Psychology. She defines the concept of Traffic Psychology as using a "knowledge of behavioral principles to modify or change" an individual's conduct in traffic situations. I agree with Ms. Wataoka when she states, "with this new knowledge or sense of self-awareness, perhaps we can pay more attention to our reactions to control them." Often we as drivers are not aware of our conduct on the roadways until we are involved in a traffic incident, or until a passenger may make some comments as to how dangerous we drive. The presence of an automatic driving self may take over everytime we enter a car. Sometimes, without being warned of our dangerous behavior, we would not attend to these hazardous habits. Traffic Psychology can help all drivers by bringing about an awareness, there by setting the impetus for a change.

  • Cherilyn Okazaki
  • Cherilyn Okazaki claims that "Traffic Psychology is important for any individual." She outlines the Traffic Psychological process as defining negative driving actions, studying these actions, and then attempting to make a change by modifying the behavior. Ms. Okazaki states that Traffic Psychology can be applied to "any activity that requires you share space." She cites such examples as bicycling and walking in which the same principles may be used. It appears to me that Traffic Psychology principles are very "plastic" in nature. "Plastic" in the context that these principles truly can be applied to many different problematical situations. The use of recognizing and restructuring methods are useful in any situation in which behaviors need to be modified.

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    Why Traffic Psychology is Needed - Experiences as a Road User

    As Dr. James stated in class, "Driving is a social activity." A successful social activity makes necessary communication of some kind between participants. On the road, all drivers are participants. It is the motorists on the road who collectively determine the flow of traffic. We often have traffic crashes when this communication brakes down.

    In order to facilitate a better and safer driving environment, motorists must effectively communicate with one another. This communication will be of the non-verbal variety due to the restrictions of the driving environment. Turn signals and brake lights help drivers signal to each other their intentions. Other methods are through the movement of their car, and through a driver's speed relative to other cars. For instance, slowing down when encountering heavier traffic, or speeding up when there is more space and less traffic on the roadway. Angling towards the lane they will be merging into. Drivers need to be attentive to one another in order to pick up on the "language." Communication can occur through the use of turn signals which overtly display a driver's intentions, or by the subtle nuances presented by the driver

    There are many individuals who use the roadways every day. Although most of this group is comprised of automobile drivers, they are not alone. Others such as pedestrians, passengers, and moped riders also make up a fraction of the traffic environment. These individuals are also subject to the field of Traffic Psychology and should be a concern for each one of them.

  • Passengers

    Passengers are the "hidden" victims of traffic incidents. They are virtually helpless and at the mercy of the motorist for the duration of the trip. At times, I feel like a hostage to the driver of the vehicle I am in. I often feel scared or think it would be rude of me to tell the motorist to drive differently. Due to the fact that passengers have no direct control of the vehicle, they are designated to have a type of "second-class status" and may only offer comments to the driver. Of these comments, how much will the driver seriously take into consideration? In all likelihood, only a small fraction of advice will be heeded by the driver. However, this may vary according to the relationship of the passenger to the driver. If the relationship between the driver and the passenger is very amicable then perhaps that passenger can become a driving buddy to the motorist. In this scenario, the implementation a Traffic Psychological approach in facilitating the use of the driving buddy to help improve an individual's self-awareness would be invaluable. This intervention could lead to a decision to alter one's behavior in hopes of being a better driver. This in turn could possibly avert potential catastrophies from happening.

  • Pedestrians

    Although some of us will never drive, all of us were pedestrians at one time or another. Pedestrians are a group of road users who are the most susceptible to injury and death if unfortunate enough to be involved in a motor vehicle crash. Statistics state that a pedestrian is killed in a motor vehicle crash every 96 minutes. One would not have to see the outcome of a head-to-head crash between a car and a pedestrian to know the outcome. Drivers are supposed to yield to pedestrians at all times, though this is not always the case.

    Crosswalks are available for pedestrian use in most locations. However, not all pedestrians take advantage of this region designated specifically for their use. Crosswalks will not prevent a pedestrian from getting hit by a car. But they are usually situated at intersections, or in regions that are highly visible to incoming traffic. Jay-walking is an offense punishable by a fine in the state of Hawaii. Jay-walking is the act of crossing a street when outside of the confines of a designated crosswalk area. Although jay-walking is seldom enforced, one of my friends was caught and given a $50 citation for running across a vacant street.

    Sadly, I have witnessed many instances where pedestrians just walk into the street, counting on the cars to be aware of them. Sometimes these pedestrians are so much in a rush that they fail to stop at the crosswalk when they are warned to stop by the indicated "red-palm-held-up" stop signal. They cannot afford to be so brash considering they could possibly be putting their life on the line. Pedestrians should take an interest in Traffic Psychology principles for their own safety. These principles will help them become more aware of the potential dangers of the traffic environment. Hopefully, this intervention will lead to more road-smart behavior being exhibited.

  • Moped Riders

    Just because the Moped Rider doesn't have the mass and power of a car, doesn't mean he is not suceptible to aggressive driving. Most mopeds have a quick acceleration in comparison to cars. In contrast to this, most mopeds are not able to reach speeds higher than 30-35 miles per hour. However, some people have found ways to modify their mopeds so that they can reach speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour.

    In some cases, moped operators will be aggressive, tail gating other motorists who they feel are going too slow. Some moped riders display horrible driving behaviors (e.g. weaving, jocking for an open space in traffic). But more often than not, they are the victims of tail gating. Inpatient drivers might tail gate mopeds in an effort to try and force them to go faster. What is not realized is that mopeds are not even half as fast as cars. I have seen this inability to attain higher speeds create momentary traffic slow downs at times.

    On the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus, mopeds have been a fixture for the past decade. However, with the implementation of new parking rules, a campus shuttle service, and a limit on moped permits allowed; there are now much less mopeds to be found on campus. There were several incidents in the past with reckless moped riders who refused to obey mormal traffic rules (e.g. come to a complete stop at the stop line, weaving through slow moving traffic, yielding to pedestrians). The lack of yielding to pedestrians was especially dangerous considering their volume of presence on a college campus. There is a need for principles of Traffic Psychology to be used in providing a safe environment in which moped riders, pedestrians, and cars can share the road.

  • Motor Vehicle Operators

    Drivers make up the biggest population of road users. They are the primary focus of Traffic Psychology. Motorists needs to be aware of their actions as well as that of the others who share the road with them. Individuals hold a great deal of responsibility anytime they are behind the wheel of a car. Not only are they responsible for their own life, but also the lives of their passengers and others who share the roadways. There is no room for selfishness. Rather, driving requires selfness and courtesy in order to produce a safer environment for all. The driving environment requires that motorists must be vigilant at all times. A car can be a weapon. This concept should be instilled in every driver.

    Drivers must operate within a given level of performance in order to keep the traffic environment moving smoothly. The speed limit must be obeyed. Cars that speed are hazardous, but so are those that move too slow. The relative speeds that cars travel at in regards to each other have the potential to cause crashes as well as traffic congestion.

    As a driver, I sometimes catch myself displaying bad driving behaviors. I may be driving above the speed limit, rushing to get from place to place. In an extreme case, I may exhibit aggressive driving by tail gating other drivers in an attempt to make them go faster or coax them to move into another lane. This is a way in which drivers can exert their power over other motorists. I totally agree that it is wrong to exhibit these behaviors. However, I believe that every motorist has the tendency to do so depending on the context of the situation.

    Traffic Psychology could help enlighten this common situation to drivers, and show them alternatives to tail gating. After all, you take away another driver's freedom by exerting your tail gating "presence". These bad driving behaviors became clear to me while I took on the role of Being a Driving Buddy for my first Traffic Psychology report. In this experiment I saw many of my own driving behaviors manifested in that of my friend. This type of modeling that I saw led me to realize I needed a change as well.

    Traffic Psychology can serve to educate all drivers. Through this discipline, drivers can become enlightened on aspects of their own driving behavior as well as those of others. Traffic psychology can serve to further sensitize even the most hardened aggressive drivers. Relearning can then occur, in which various bad driving behaviors modeled on such mediums as television and the movies, can then be scrutiinized and disuaded from ever reappearing in real-life situations.

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    Recommendations for Future Generations

    In this modern society, almost every individual will in some way become a part of the traffic situation. It is important to stress that Traffic Psychology is not solely for motorists, but also bicyclists, moped riders, and pedestrians. Due to this fact, I would encourage all to familiarize themselves with the concepts and principles that make up the discipline of Traffic Psychology. Our road ways will be safer if everyone would do this.

    The principles of Traffic Psychology can be applied to other areas in life. Keep in mind the three domains of Driving Behavior and allow yourself to experiment in using theses principles in relation to other facets of life.

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