It's just who I am, I can't help it!

Alex is just the type of person who drives fast, wherever she goes. Speeding tickets are commonplace, and she doesn’t mind that people prefer not to ride with her if they’re given the option. She also walks fast, works fast, and gets impatient in queues. It’s just the way she is! Do you know someone like Alex?

We know that the way we drive is closely related to the way we live.

So, it can be tempting to think that our driving style is just the way it is – no chance of changing it! But this article aims to show you just how unhelpful (and incorrect!) that thinking really is.

Does personality influence driving?

Yes. Numerous studies have shown strong links between things such as sensation seeking, rule-breaking and anger, and more crashes and incidents on the road (Iverson & Rundmo, 2002, Wang et. Al., 2018). But is personality fixed and unchanging? The research is clear on this too, absolutely not! While there may be some difficult-to-alter aspects of temperament as we age, personality traits have been shown to be changeable. Life circumstances and experience (trauma, becoming a parent, simply aging) are great examples. Another is selecting a trait you’d like to change (how conscientious and committed you are, for example) and working hard for new behaviours to become habits (such as being on time and completing work you’ve said you’ll do). Few people would be willing to accept that their behaviour (driving behaviour included!) is rigid and unchangeable. If this were the case, why do we continue to set, and often meet, trait-based goals?

But perhaps it is preferable to talk about resources, rather than traits.

A personality trait may indicate how you would tend to respond in a situation. However, the resources you have available to you at a given moment (how much energy/time you have, how exhausted/stressed you feel) affect which course of action you’ll likely select (Fredrickson, 1998). Being cut off in traffic after a gruelling day will likely evoke a different reaction from you than that same experience driving around an island on holiday when well rested and in no rush. This way of looking at things helps us look past generalisations about skill or personality, and let us see that maybe it has more to do with what I as a driver have available to me at a given time. It also helps us understand why other drivers might make poor choices – not just that they’re an ‘idiot’ or a lazy driver, but that they might have less emotional and physical bandwidth at that current moment.

Of course, we also have clear evidence that we can in fact, change our driving behaviour. Studies have shown that things like practicing mindfulness (Bird, 2018), having eye contact with other drivers (Rakotonirainy, 2009), and perspective/attitude change (Iversen, 2004) all change driver behaviour. But not all interventions are created equal. We also know which things don’t make a difference, such as prescriptive training, and road safety campaign signs we can see from our cars!

And we know that the way we live and drive are closely interlinked – so a calmer and safer drive home will have benefits long past getting out of the car, and a more stress-free commute has the same effect at work. Think for a moment how you feel after pushing your way distractedly through traffic to arrive somewhere, versus taking your time to get safely to your destination. Our in-car actions have flow-on effects to the rest of our days, our interactions, our work.

So, now you believe it’s possible to make changes to your driving behaviour, and ‘it’s just who I am’ no longer passes as an excuse… here are a few ways to do so:

  • Driver training. There’s strong evidence that coaching-style training programmes work, whereas top down instructional teaching does not. Fleetcoach offers the kind of training that actually works.
  • Mindfulness practice. Even a few moments of mindful awareness before you drive can make a big difference. Try sitting for a few minutes and notice things you can see, hear, taste, touch and smell.
  • Awareness of your resources. While you’re being mindful of the things around you, notice your internal state too. What resources are you currently working with, or are you running on empty? Are you hungry, tired, anxious, angry?
  • Change your perspective. Try this next time someone on the road is frustrating you: imagine you are them. Transport yourself into their position and give them a name, a job, describe the day they’ve had, are they in pain? And so on. Doing this regularly helps to develop more compassion and understanding for other drivers.

And finally, consider passing this information on to the Alex from the first paragraph that you know of in your own life.

‘It’s just the way I am, it’s just the way I drive’, is out, and ‘I can change my driving’ is in!

  

References

 

Bird, D. (2018). The association between mindfulness and driving behaviour in employees (Doctoral dissertation, The University of Waikato).

Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions?. Review of general psychology, 2(3), 300-319. 

Iversen, H., & Rundmo, T. (2002). Personality, risky driving and accident involvement among Norwegian drivers. Personality and individual Differences, 33(8), 1251-1263. 

Iversen, H. (2004). Risk-taking attitudes and risky driving behaviour. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 7(3), 135-150. 

Rakotonirainy, A., Feller, F., & Haworth, N. (2009). In-vehicle avatars to elicit social response and change driving behaviour. International Journal of Technology and Human Interaction (IJTHI), 5(4), 80-104.