Jeana Chen's Report 4: Resistance to Traffic Psychology

Report 4

Resistance to Traffic Psychology

What is Resistance?

To become a traffic psychologist, one must overcome the resistance in changing negative driving behaviors. Resistance to traffic psychology can come in several forms, such as denial, indifference, defensiveness, and even mockery. Throughout my quest to conquer the resistance in my subject, I have encountered all four forms as mentioned, in various stages of the modification process.

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Quite similar to the procedures discussed in class, mine has been as follows:

  • Find the subject--explain traffic psychology and driving modification, ask for permission to participate
    Specify behavior(s) to be modified--direct inquiry or observe subject's driving behavior in person
    Method of modification--devise ways to change subject's negative driving behavior
    Resolve resistance--give positive reinforcements and rewards
    Assess improvement--take final drive with subject to observe improvement

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Finding the Subject

Since I have only been in Hawaii for a year, most of the people I can coerce into participating this project are back home, and the people I do know on the island either don't own a car or do not drive while I'm with them because I have a car and I never needed a lift. So I don't know how they drive--if they do drive; and I don't know if they have any bad driving behaviors.

Can't very well bluntly ask them if they have a bad behavior they need to change now...can I?

The Subject

Finally found someone whose driving I had to endure everyday. He is the easiest "victim" dear husband, Chris. He is also a college student; his major is travel industry management; and he works at Sheraton Waikiki. He is also from Guam--a Chamoru (native of Guam)--but since his father was a Marine, he spent most of his life in Okinawa, Hawaii, and US mainland.

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The Problem

Chris is a very good driver...most of the time. He has a great sense of directions, he is always calm, and he doesn't daze off like I do. He just has this one habit which ticks the hell out of me. He likes to drive really close to the car in front of him, especially in traffic. When the car in front brakes, he often has to bring the car to a teeth-grinding stop. If our brakes don't work as well as they do, we'd be financially ruined by now.

So...often I'd be sitting next to him, eerie chills sweeping down my back, stomping on the imaginary brakes with my right foot, watching him...doing what? Stepping on the gas again to get bumper-to-bumper with the car in front! It's GAS-BRAKE-GAS-BRAKE all the way through traffic.

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Chris and I have been together for the past 5 years, yet I never really articulated my objection to his driving. I guess on Guam we hardly ever get caught in traffic; when we do, I would just suggest an alternative route, instead of criticizing the way he drives. Part of me might have been like Dr. James' wife, who never criticized on Dr. James' driving for 15 years, I was afraid Chris will get angry. Nobody likes to be criticized, especially by family or close friends.

The intriguing part was, many people I know and love behaves so differently in their cars that I would not want to be caught driving on the same road with them. My mother, for example, drives so cautiously that she would wait and wait...till the roads are all cleared up for miles before she makes a turn. Once, a car cut in front of me and drove slower than I liked all the way to the same parking garage I was going to, then her car stalled at the entrance! I was quietly cursing her till she came over to the same elevator--it was one of my closest friends.

Would I criticize my mom or my friend? Never! I would never hurt their feelings, or tell them what kind of curses I was calling them inside. Would I criticize Chris?

Thanks to this report, I casually brought up the issue when Chris and I were in traffic again. I had hair standing all over my body, repeating prayers at each screeching stop, and finally..."STOP BRAKING-GASSING-BRAKING-GASSING!" Chris turned to me, dumbfounded, "What's wrong?"

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Initial Denial

"Like you don't know what you've been doing!" He still has that innocent, confused look on his face. "Didn't you notice those imaginary brakes I've been doing?"

"No."All right, that's it!

So he's doing traffic psychology with me now. For some reason, he never thought he was doing anything out of the ordinary. As a matter of fact, when I told him (one of my hair-pulling moments) that he drove like shit and his driving freaks me out all the time--he said, "YOU WANNA DRIVE?" Okay, so it was more like a yell...a little defensive, eh?

Driving skills are personal issues. They are like a part of someone's behavior, someone's personality. I think when we are in the driver's seat, we become children again. If we can't control the events in every day life, we can at least control how we drive. Like children, we don't want to be in the wrong, or to be told what to do. We want to drive just the way we like, and if anyone have a problem with our driving, TOUGH!

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Initial Resistance

"I'm not doing anything! If I don't speed up, someone will cut in front of me, okay? You want to be stuck here all day?"

According to Chris, driving in traffic is a lot like being in a long line. No one likes people to cut in front of them in a line, and the same sentiment applies to traffic.

Remember lining up outside Garley hall before the birds were awake on preregistration day? You were happy because you were like the sixth person in line. Unfortunately, you "blinked" were tired, it can't be helped...but what's THIS? All of a sudden you've become the twentieth person in line. You wonder, and boy do you ever wonder, if all these @*#holes are registering for the same class you had in mind. Have they no morals, no values, no conscience, no shame?! They got two hours more sleep than you did and now they're in front!

Your blood starts boiling as more and more cut in front of you. So you moved faster and closer to the guy in front. You look aggressively around you, trying to make sure no one else would be able to cut. All of a sudden the guy in front of you hits the brake, causing you to jump on your brakes too...and a heart-felt attack for the passenger right next to you.

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"The passenger happens to be me, Chris. Don't you ever think abut your passengers?"

The awful truth is, Chris is unaware of his potentially dangerous actions. He has never been in an accident, so he thinks he "must be doing something right". Because of this rather egotistical belief in his driving skills, he is indifferent to his passengers, to his fellow drivers, and to traffic psychology.

In all five years that we've been together, he has never noticed the imaginary brakes I press on in traffic. When we are stuck at a snail pace, he curses the drivers in front of him for plugging up traffic by allowing people to cut. When I bring up traffic psychology, he said, "You drive worse than I do...get so-and-so to do it with you. I don't need it."

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The Plan

This problem is not as simple as blanking out on the in my Report 3. To correct this horrible behavior, the driver must stop stepping on the accelerator and the brake so hard. He must learn to let go of the gas before getting bumper-to-bumper with the car in front, let the car move on it's own when cars begin to move again at their snail pace, an most important of all, he must accept cutters as a part of traffic.


Chris didn't know he gases and brakes abruptly in traffic...the bad habit cannot be changed unless he realizes it's dangerous and frightening. Since he was so resentful toward my former outburst, I chose a more subtle way to let him realize what he is doing.

"You see that in there?" I pointed to the floor in front of my seat. "That's the imaginary brake I've been stepping on every time you freak me out. I'm going to stomp on it till you realize what you're doing do me."

When that failed, I got in the driver's seat and gave him a good scare. After a few jolts he said, "Okay, okay, I know what you mean."

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Letting Go

Chris has this obsession for the accelerator. He can't seem to let go of it. When the car in front of him is braking, or when the lights are red, his foot will not get off the pedal till the last minute. To avoid those hateful stops, the first thing he must learn is to let go of the gas.

Every time a red brake light or a stop light comes on, I'd tell him to take his foot off the pedal by saying "red" or "off". At first he didn't want to do it. He thought it was silly and "It'll never work." Then again, he didn't like having me yell, "Slow down! SLOW DOWN!" So he caved in. (ha ha)

We tried "red" for the first three days. It worked out pretty well. On the first day he ignored me a little...



"RED! Will you slow down?"

The second day was much better. On the third day he began (mocking, maybe) to slow down as soon as the light comes on...even if we were three miles away from the stop or brake light. I guess that concludes the first part of his traffic behavior modification.

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As soon as the car in front of him starts to move again, Chris would step on the accelerator right away. Anyone who has driven in traffic knows he will not be able to move for more than two inches before having to brake again...causing the jerky stops all passengers dread. Therefore, I thought it was reasonable for him to keep away from the gas pedal at least until the car in front is about half-car length from us.

"But don't you think one of those bug cars would squeeze in?"...was his defense. Ha, ha...not funny.

I asked him to release the brake for five seconds before stepping on the gas. To make sure he would not jump on the accelerator right away, he has to put his foot flat on the floor. When I am in the car with him, I would count the seconds out loud. We practiced in normal traffic at first. For example, if we stopped at a stop light, after the light turned green and the car in front of us showed some movement, I would count to five before he can step on the gas. It worked pretty well in heavy traffic, too. Usually five seconds were long enough for the flow to come to a still again. Yet, it was not too long that someone would cut in front of us.

We counted on and off for the next five days till he was used to leaving his foot on the floor for a comfortable period of time before accelerating. When he forgets, I would count out loud to remind him. After a few days, he would release the brake for at least three seconds without so many reminders.

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Understanding Cutters

Still, someone would force their car into our lane once in a while.

"See that? See that?" Chris would say, triumphantly.

Since the root of Chris' negative driving behavior was his hatred for cutters, he must learn to accept them as a nature part of traffic. So nobody likes cutters. But we all have to cut some times. In order for Chris to accept cutters, he has to first understand the mentality of cutters.


Unavoidable cutters are the ones who have to cut. They may want to make a turn at the next intersection or street. Chris's argument was if they had intended to turn, they should have gotten into the lane way before, instead of having to cut in front of him.

"What if the driver is sort of like me?" I often fall into dazes and I have a horrible sense of directions. I am the type that often needs to cut to make my turns. By the time I figure out which street I am on and where I would have to make my turn, I am already there. Then the desperate braking and signaling...I always felt so incredibly grateful toward the driver who let me cut.

Just because someone cut, does not mean she is a cursed @*#!%$ who deserves to rot in drivers' hell (which--I imagine--is an infinite freeway of snail paced traffic, with all gas gauges at E). She could be lost, she could be a tourist, she could've dazed off...


These are the sort of cutters that does not want to turn or get off at the next exit. They just want to get on the faster lane. "Why can't they stick to their own lane?"

Let's say you are stuck behind three cancer-causing, exhaust-spitting, slow-moving tour buses down in Waikiki, who make stops in front of every hotel...will you stick to your own lane? Let's say you are almost late for work and these three same buses are in front of you on the freeway, will you stick to your own lane? Intentional cutters may be very irritating, but they may have good reasons, too, for cutting.

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Accepting Cutters

Accepting cutters turned out to be the most difficult part of the modification. Most of the time, when Chris gets stuck in traffic, he isn't racing with time, but is competing with the cars in the lane next to him--sort of a superior "I chose the right lane, that's why I'm ahead of you all" and "no way in hell will I let you in front of chose the slow lane, face the consequences" attitude.

Smelly Shoes

Since the root of Chris' negative driving behavior was his hatred for cutters, the solution would be for him to put himself in the shoes of the stinking cutters. For the next two days, every time he cut, I would ask him, "Why did you do that for?"

He'd get very defensive, "I need to's faster on this want to follow this bus all day?"

"You know the guy behind us is probably cursing you right now,"

"So what?"

"and all those people that you've been cursing at for cutting in front of us feels exactly what you're feeling now."


For two days I had him thinking about how he felt when he cuts in front of other cars. Then I gave him two phrases to chant to himself whenever someone cut in front of him. One was "I'm not in a hurry"; and the other was "They have their reasons". Some times when I'm in the car with him, we'd make up "reasons" for the cutters. Like, "He's late for work", "She's definitely late for that hair appointment", "He needs to use the bathroom"...then we'd laugh instead of getting angry about it.

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Final Assessment

At the end of two weeks, we took an official drive on the freeway. It was Monday, April 29, 1996, at 4PM. The course was from Waikiki to Pearlridge Shopping Center. Without my aids, the frequency of the abrupt jolts had admirably decreased. I noticed although he no longer put his foot flat on the floor, he'd lift it for a few seconds before switching to the accelerator. Chris still grunts at cutters; once after someone cut he said, "Diarrhea is a horrible thing to have in traffic." After we reached the mall, he even considerately asked if I had to step on any imaginary brakes.

His modification process is not over yet, since the behavior has not been completely eliminated. However, Chris has become a better driver on the road, and a better traffic psychologist.

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