Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Psychology of Hawaiian Drivers


You 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.

Illustration: Michael Austin

"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."

{clipping service}

While football fans readied for college bowl games last December, sports columnist Steve Wilstein wrote about the lack of diversity among the bowl-bound teams. One notable exception? Hawai‘i. From the Dec. 23, 2003 Associated Press article:

Though more than half of all college football players are black, a study [authored by Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida] of the 56 teams shows that whites hold 94 percent of campus leadership positions.
Only two of the 56 colleges and universities, Bowling Green and Missouri, have black presidents. Among athletic directors at the bowl schools, three are black men (USC, Virginia and Hawai‘i 1), two are Latinos (UCLA and New Mexico), and two are women (Tulsa and Maryland).
Only UCLA has a black head football coach. Of the 112 offensive and defensive coordinators, only six are black (Virginia, New Mexico, Hawai‘i 2, Florida, Miami and Southern Mississippi) and two are Asian or Pacific Islanders (Navy and USC).

1 University of Hawai‘i athletic director Herman Frazier
2 UH defensive coordinator George Lumpkin

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular Stories

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Subscribe to Honolulu

Honolulu Magazine August 2020
Edit ModuleShow Tags



9 Greatest Honolulu Homes

Great Homes

Stunning, historic, extraordinary.


Can the Mainland Do Poke Right? Do We Want Them To?​


Martha Cheng, author of The Poke Cookbook and former line cook, talks about how a New York City publisher decided Hawai‘i’s favorite pūpū was for everybody.


50 Essential Hawai‘i Books You Should Read in Your Lifetime


The most iconic, trenchant and irresistible island books, as voted by a panel of literary community luminaries.


Everything You Need to Know About Local Fruit in Hawai‘i


Fruits are part of our history and culture, a way for us to feel connected to our community.


A Local’s Guide to Buying Reef-Safe Sunscreen


Five Hawai‘i brands have created reef-safe sunscreens that are safe for your ʻohana and the ocean. 

Edit ModuleShow Tags