They’ve got one mirror dangling from the car by a single wire, a multicoloured rainbow of paint scrapes on their bumper and wonder why they keep wearing out their clutch. But even the worst drivers on our roads, those who keep getting involved in accidents ‘that aren’t their fault’, believe they are, in fact, good drivers.
Statistically half of us are below average at driving. But no-one thinks that; everyone thinks they are great. Scientific studies have found that 93% of motorists judged themselves ‘above average’ at driving. One survey even found that 36% of drivers believed they were still above average while texting or sending emails at the wheel.
Of course, as the writer of this article, I’m sure that I am well into the top ten per cent and I know that you lot are among the dozens of useless drivers I see out there every day on the road. Or am I? That’s the problem: we all judge ourselves very favourably and blame everyone else when things go wrong. Perhaps I’m really rubbish…
So why is there this over-estimate of our own abilities? Well, for a start, a team of psychologists found that people use their own definitions of what makes a good driver. For some it was being ultra slow and cautious, for others it was being able to take corners at high speed. Some even believed their ability to multi-task made them superior. After all, what could be more skilful than being able to eat a sandwich, tune the radio and turn round to talk to your kids while cruising at 70mph on the motorway?
“For a portion of drivers, their ability to text message while driving might be one of the characteristics that they believe makes them a unique and superior driver,” the scientists wrote in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.
Another reason for our inflated self-image is the way it is easier to spot other people’s mistakes than your own. You may not see another vehicle in your blindspot, then they suddenly appear alongside you. Your first reaction is likely to be: “What’s that idiot doing?”
If you drive through a red light because you didn’t see it, you’ll never know you got it wrong. If you see someone else do it, you’ll think they should be banned immediately.
Similarly you might be in the wrong lane at a junction or cut someone off without realising. Most people drive in a semi auto-pilot state, using habitual reactions to get them through the hazards of the road. It’s relatively easy to do something wrong and not even notice. But gazing out through windscreens it seems the road is littered with other drivers making mistakes. We might have made the same ones without realising.
Think back to your driving test. Back then I knew the Highway Code, the specific manoeuvres required and how to impress the examiner. Since then I’ve forgotten the lot. I’ve replaced it with habits based on many hours at the wheel - and not all those habits constitute ‘good driving’.
Don’t forget that the lovely driving position and ergonomic controls of modern vehicle cockpits are designed to make the occupant of the driver’s seat feel in control, to give a commanding view of the road and ensure we feel like we’re capable of high performance driving feats. That’s one of the ways they sell us those expensive cars we can’t afford.
Finally, there is another reason we all rate ourselves higher than the rest of the fools around us. Ask people how intelligent they are and the vast majority say ‘above average’. It’s simple: we are all big heads.