The Psychology of Hawaiian Drivers
don't drive as well as you think you do. That's the cause of most traffic accidents-and
the solution to preventing them in the first place, according to Honolulu psychologist
Dr. Robert Spicer. "People simply aren't as competent behind the wheel as they
believe they are, and that includes me," says Spicer.|
Spicer doesn't believe Hawai'i drivers are any more mistaken about their own abilities than drivers anywhere else. "We're no better, no worse than drivers in any other comparatively crowded city in the United States. Our roads aren't particularly good, but our accident rates are roughly comparable to any similar municipalities."
But, says Spicer, he can speak with some authority about Hawai'i drivers because he did the research here. In the early '60s, the federal government gave Spicer a grant to study the "psychodynamics of motor vehicle operators." The original intent was to identify personality traits that correlated with auto accidents.
"We failed to find that," he says, "but what we found was far more interesting." Using the relatively primitive technology of 40 years ago, Spicer took hours of movie film of traffic situations and set up prototype driving simulator. "What we found was that professional drivers-policemen, truck, bus, ambulance and delivery drivers-would pick up critical cues in moving traffic. They would see that little twitch in the wheels that signaled another driver was going to change lanes, for instance. Good driving is being aware and prepared to take appropriate action."
Professional drivers noticed many more traffic cues than non-professionals. "Think about it. Does anyone really get trained to drive outside of a few hours in their teens?" says Spicer. "We think we're great drivers, but it's a grand delusion." A total of 136 people died on Hawai'i roads in 2003. According to Spicer, it's luck that keeps most of us from being a statistic.
He uses the example of H-3. "You see people doing 70, 80, 90 miles an hour. I doubt there are 100 people on the whole Island trained in what to do if something happens at that speed."
Spicer's solution: Requalify drivers the same way airline pilots are requalified. "The technology now exists to create wonderful driving simulators. If we just got a little professional coaching and driving simulation practice each year, we might all be the above average drivers we already conceitedly think we are."
Spicer's research is now 40 years old. Does he think things have changed? "No," he laughs. "The cars have changed. They are so agile now, so beautiful and they go like a scalded cat. But the accident rate hasn't gone down. Because we aren't any better."