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Archive for 2012

Are Men Really Better Drivers than Women?

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

There are many, many jokes about women’s driving. Whether it’s that they drive too slowly or that they struggle when parking, the general impression is usually that men are better drivers than women. But is this really true?

Are Men Really Better Drivers Than Women?Accident statistics have repeatedly shown that males are more likely to be involved in a car crash and up to 70% of all fatalities in car crashes are male. These statistics suggest that women may actually be better, or at least safer, drivers than men. So, what has research into this topic shown and is there really a sex difference in driving behaviours?

Much of the sex differences research has focussed on driving attitudes and driving styles. In particular researchers have examined the distinction between errors, unplanned mistakes made when intending to complete a legitimate and safe driving behaviour, and violations, intentional behaviours which may be unsafe. Men are far more likely to commit violations when driving, whereas women tend to commit more errors.

Other researchers have considered driving skills in men and women. In this area of research there is an important distinction to be made between two key behaviours: perceptual motor skills – the technical skills required to drive a vehicle. safety skills – the ability of a driver to anticipate and avoid a crash.

Again, there is a clear sex difference in how people assess their own driving skills. Men tend to highly rate their perceptual-motor driving skills whereas women are more likely to have high scores for safety driving traits.

One very interesting recent study examined the impact of sex differences and gender differences on driving behaviours. The terms “sex” and “gender” are often used interchangeably, but they actually refer to quite different things. Someone’s sex is biologically determined by your chromosomes – you are either male or female. In contrast, someone’s gender identity is a psychological concept i.e. how masculine or feminine you are.

Özkan and Lajunen considered both sex and gender identity and found that each explained variability in driving behaviour. In terms of sex differences, they found that men are significantly more likely to have been involved in collisions than women. They also used the Driving Skills Inventory to measure the perceptual motor skills and safety skills of the participants. Here they found strong associations with gender identity. People who are more masculine tend to have better perceptual motor driving skills, whereas people who are more feminine tend to score higher for the safety skills associated with driving.

It’s quite clear that there are sex and gender differences in driving behaviour, but why is this the case? One very likely explanation is that, at least to some extent, hormones can account for sex differences in driving. Males, and women who have more masculine gender identities, have higher levels of testosterone, which has been linked to more risky driving behaviours such as speeding.

Another explanation is that men and women’s brains develop in slightly different ways. An area of the brain called the inferior parietal lobule, which is sited just above the ears, is responsible for the understanding and manipulation of spatial information, and this is significantly larger in men than women.

Having examined some of the research, what can we conclude about sex differences in driving behaviours? There does seem to be some evidence in support of men being more technically skilled drivers. This probably results from men being better at visuo-spatial processing than women. However, women are clearly safer drivers than men. This is evident in both the psychological research and the accident statistics.

As with most research into psychological sex differences, it is difficult to conclude that one sex is definitively “better” than the other. Instead, men and women have different driving talents and therefore each sex is better than the other in different driving situations.

Dr Victoria Bourne (BA Hons, DPhil)

Consultant to Driving Risk Management Limited

Does your car have a personality that affects your driving behaviour?

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Although business drivers might hesitate to admit it, many will attribute human-like qualities to their car, known as anthropomorphising. This could be as simple as treating it as male or female or even giving it a name. So, if some people treat their car more like a person, does this influence the way in which they drive?

Car PersonalityIn 2007 researchers from Colorado State University conducted a study to analyse if drivers were giving their cars human characteristics, and whether this tendency was associated with different driving behaviours. They asked each participant whether their car was male or female and if their car had a name. Additionally, they asked each participant to complete a questionnaire in which they reported their own personality characteristics. Participants were also asked to imagine their car’s “personality” and to complete another questionnaire giving those details.

Nearly half of the participants reported that they assigned a sex to their car, with 28% reporting that their car was female and 20% reporting that their car was male. The researchers found significant differences in behaviour traits between those who gave their car a sex and those who did not. People who classified their car as either male or female reported having higher levels of driving aggression than those who did not but surprisingly there was no difference in driving behaviour between people with ‘male cars’ and those with ‘female cars’.

When it came to naming their cars, just over a quarter of the participants admitted they did. In contrast to those who assigned a sex to their car, there were no differences in driving behaviour between those who named their car and those who didn’t. The researchers also looked at whether the type of name that was given to a car was associated with the owner’s driving behaviour. Car names were classified as either aggressive (e.g. Rambo) or non-aggressive (e.g. Tigger), but still there was no difference in driving behaviour between these drivers.

Possibly the most interesting aspect of the study was the findings relating to the driver’s and the car’s own personalities. The researchers examined five personality traits: agreeableness, extraversion, conscientiousness, openness and neuroticism.

Firstly, there were correlations between the driver’s and the car’s personalities but they were relatively small. This is important, as it means that drivers were not simply projecting their own personality onto their car. If this were the case, the two personality measures would be perfectly correlated. The small correlations suggest that drivers perceive their cars as having their own personalities, with distinct and independent traits.

For both the driver’s and the car’s personality, the traits of extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness are the best predictors of aggressive driving. Driving is more aggressive if people are highly extraverted or score low on agreeableness or conscientiousness. However, the most important aspect of the analysis examined whether the driver’s or the car’s personality was the best predictor of aggressive behaviour.

Amazingly, for some aspects of driving behaviour, the car’s personality was a better predictor than the driver’s personality! If a car was viewed as not having a very agreeable or conscientious personality, the driver tended to express their anger through their use of the vehicle, for example flashing their lights or driving too close to another car. Drivers of cars with low agreeableness also reported higher levels of aggressiveness on a number of scales, including being verbally and physically aggressive whilst driving.

What is particularly important in this study is that, in some cases, the personality that is attributed to a car by its driver seems to influence driving behaviour. So it may be that drivers are attempting to separate themselves from their aggressive driving behaviours by “blaming” the personality characteristics of the car that they are driving. This leaves us with the very interesting conclusion that we can reduce our aggressive driving by viewing our cars as less aggressive and extraverted, and instead as more agreeable and conscientious.

Dr Victoria Bourne (BA Hons, DPhil)

Consultant to Driving Risk Management Limited

You may say you are a good driver, but are you really?

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Do you think you’re a good driver? Very few people are likely to answer “no”. Generally we like to present ourselves to other people in a positive light, so we may adapt how we respond to questions to make us seem like better people. In psychological research this is called social desirability and we make this positive adjustment to our responses in a wide range of circumstances. Essentially, any time we’re asked to report our attitudes and behaviours we’re likely to be over positive.

are you really a good driverOver the past ten years a large number of online assessments have been developed to allow employers to quickly, easily and cheaply understand their employees driving behaviours and attitudes, including whether they are “risky drivers”. Whilst these assessments do provide a valuable source of information on employees’ driving behaviours, I suspect that the responses from employees might be influenced by social desirability.

Toward the end of the 1990’s a research team from the Traffic Research Unit in Finland developed a questionnaire to specifically measure social desirability in surveys of driving behaviour – the Driver Social Desirability Scale. The questionnaire included 25 items and was completed by more than four hundred participants from Finland and Australia.

From their analysis they identified two distinct aspects of driver social desirability. People scoring highly on the Driver Impression Management scale were more likely to lie about their actual driving behaviours, for example reporting that they would never exceed the speed limit or had driven through a traffic light turning red. People with high scores on the second scale, Driver Self-Deception, tended to overestimate their own driving beliefs. For example, they’re more likely to report being calm, confident and rational when driving.

While most people seek social desirability, some are more susceptible to it than others. Some people will give very honest (but possibly not very desirable) responses to driver assessments, whereas others are more likely to given socially desirable (but possibly not very honest) responses. Are there differences in driving behaviours and attitudes between these types of people?

An international team of researchers examined the relationship between social desirability, using the Driver Social Desirability Scale, and driving behaviours. They found that high scores on the social desirability scale were associated with fewer self-reported traffic collisions, but that they were not associated with the number of incidents recorded by the employing organisation. This means that people who seek social desirability, and want to be seen as good drivers, tend to report being safer drivers than the objective evidence suggests.

Online assessments of driver behaviour have many advantages. It’s easy, quick and cheap to assess the driving behaviours and attitudes of a large number of employees. It’s then possible to identify individuals who report more driving errors or violations or who are riskier drivers and then arrange further training for them. However, it’s important to bear in mind the possible effects of social desirability, which means that some people who might benefit from additional training are not identified.

Many of the recently developed self-report measures include items to test for social desirability. However, simply asking people how good they are at driving is not necessarily the most accurate way of finding out how good they really are. Having an awareness of social desirability when looking at self-report assessments will help a manager to have a better understanding of a driver’s attitudes and behaviours, which should then feed into the development of driver training and other interventions.

Dr Victoria Bourne (BA Hons, DPhil)

Counsultant to Driving Risk Management

How much does the company influence an employee’s driving behaviour?

Friday, January 6th, 2012

In recent years there has been a great deal of emphasis placed on an organisation’s responsibilities towards the health and safety of its employees. In terms of driving, this has led to the Health and Safety Executive developing legislation to ensure that employers have the appropriate policies, procedures and training in place to ensure the welfare and safety of their employees when driving.

So, how much do the organisational climate and employer attitudes influence the driving behaviours of employees? A number of psychological studies have examined this relationship. So, can different approaches to driver training, and health and safety implementation, actually lead to employees driving in a safer way?

Recently, a review of driving safety at work was conducted by Australian researchers Sharon Newnam and Barry Watson, in the light of evidence showing that driving incidents are the most common reason of injury and death in the workplace. One aspect they considered was the organisational procedures, which was found to have three key components:

  • holding a crash reporting database
  • procuring/maintaining vehicles
  • the recruitment and training of drivers.

Newnam and Watson concluded that the interventions instigated and implemented by senior management were essential to successfully increase safe driving behaviours. They also suggested that employees report safer driving behaviours when they have supervisors and fleet managers who encourage safety-related discussions and interventions. This shows the importance of adopting an organisational climate that is driving safety-aware at all levels, from the company directors right through to the company drivers themselves.

A research group in Finland, headed by Bahar Oz, asked 230 professional drivers to complete two questionnaires. One asked about their own driving behaviours and the other asked about the organisational culture of the company they work for. They found that the organisation’s culture divided into two key aspects: work orientation and employee consideration. Each aspect was differently associated with employee driving behaviour.

People who worked for companies with high work orientation scores, companies that actively promote the effective running of a company, were likely to report fewer intentional driving violations and more positive driving behaviours. In contrast, people working for companies that have high levels of employee consideration reported higher levels of unintentional driving errors, but lower levels of intentional driving violations. This finding is both interesting and important, as it highlights that companies which are openly considerate of their employees’ needs are likely to be rewarded by safer employee driving behaviours, and consequently less associated time and financial loss.

Research conducted at Cranfield University in the UK has also shown that driver training can increase safe driving behaviours. They compared the driving behaviours of drivers who had received professional training with those who had not. In a driving simulator they found that those who had received that training had better lane positioning, slower driving speeds and generally safer driving behaviours.

The research clearly shows that a company’s attitude to driving for work can change or influence an employee’s driving behaviours. In order to create the most advantageous organisational climate, companies need to pay particular attention to showing consideration to their employees and the training they provide. Such a climate leads to employees driving in a safer way, whereby they have fewer traffic incidents and violations. This in turn leads to savings for the company and better health and well being for the employee. In these difficult financial times many companies are searching for ways to save money so investing in driver safety is likely to provide long term benefits financially.

Dr Victoria Bourne (BA Hons, DPhil)

Counsultant to Driving Risk Management