We all like to think that we are good drivers, but recent research suggests that many people over-estimate their abilities. Online motor retail specialist BuyaCar.co.uk asked more than 1000 motorists how they would rank their own driving skills in comparison with other people, and it turns out that about two thirds of us either believe we are ‘among the best’ drivers or ‘better than most,’ while only a quarter see ourselves as ‘average.’
Meanwhile, a measly 7% of motorists admit that there is ‘room for improvement’ in their driving. Austin Collins, Managing Director of BuyaCar.co.uk, said: ‘It’s amusing to find that so many drivers believe something about their status behind the wheel that is logically impossible – most of us simply can’t be better at something than most other people.’
Psychologists have long been fascinated with the phenomenon of overestimating our own abilities, which is common in almost every area of our lives – particularly when we are young. Social psychologists even have a name for it – ‘illusory superiority.’
One of the most widely agreed explanations for people overestimating their driving ability is that the experience of receiving feedback from other people – both positive and negative – is crucial in helping us to understand how competent or otherwise we are at a given task. Because we are rarely accompanied by anyone other than friends or family when driving, it may be that we rarely receive independent feedback on our driving.
But in the case of BuyaCar. co.uk’s findings it also seems that the older we get, the more generous we are in assessing our own competence. Drivers up to the age of 34 were most likely to admit to ‘room for improvement’ or even – in a handful of cases – that ‘I’m a bad driver.’ In contrast, people aged 34 to 55 were most likely to describe themselves as ‘among the best,’ and in this group nobody at all was willing to identify as a bad driver.
These findings were backed up by research from price comparison site, MoneySuperMarket, which reveals that the majority of Brits (71%) believe that other road users could do more to improve their driver safety, but that UK drivers on average rate the safety of their own driving as a generous 8/10. This is despite the fact that 35% of those who rated themselves a six or above have been involved in two or more accidents.
Young drivers are particularly vulnerable, and consequently they are often hit with the highest insurance premiums. This does mean tarring all new drivers with the same brush, but it is hard to argue with the statistics upon which insurers base their rates. For example, research from the RAC Foundation showed that one in five young drivers will have a crash within the first six months of driving, while road safety charity Brake found that a quarter of 18-24 year olds will crash within two years of passing their driving test.
Over confidence and a lack of experience must be considered major factors in these high accident rates, but the training new drivers receive is also crucial. To illustrate this, the MoneySuperMarket research found that over half (55%) of drivers did not pass their test first time, and those who took more attempts to pass went on to have more accidents.
That should not come as a major surprise; after all, not everybody has the same natural aptitude for driving as we do(!). Yet perhaps new drivers are not being taught in the best way. Another piece of research, this time by insurance company LV=, found that over half (53%) of newly qualified drivers say the current hazard perception test is out of date and is in need of modernisation.
The hazard perception test was introduced in 2002, and since then the hazard content has not been updated. The current test contains hazards such as cyclists, cars turning ahead and horse riders, but new drivers felt that a number of ‘modern’ risks weren’t included. These include potholes (reported by 41% of new drivers), pedestrians on mobile phones (reported by 33%), children on scooters (reported by 21%) and even vape clouds from vehicle windows (reported by 11%).
As a result, one in six (16%) new drivers say they find it difficult to spot these ‘modern’ hazards, and nearly half (47%) of new drivers say the hazard perception test didn’t prepare them for life on the road. Curiously though, MoneySuperMarket also found that although the majority of Brits think driver safety could be improved, 63% would not take out a Pass Plus qualification, despite this being designed to help drivers improve their skills and drive more safely.