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What makes a ‘good’ driver?

Most drivers would rate themselves good but at the same time many of them freely admit they would struggle to pass a basic driving test. Research suggests that around 95% of all collisions are down to human error.

When asked to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being dangerous and 10 being perfect, most drivers rate themselves as seven, eight or nine. However, every day we see drivers on the road who more closely fit the 3 or 4 category.

Many have tried to define what constitutes a good driver but I'm not sure any of those definitions really explain why most people rate themselves above average when this is quite clearly not the case. How can most be above average?

So, let's look at it another way. Maybe most of us are capable of a good, safe standard of driving, after all we proved it by passing our driving test, but do people generally drive to their capabilities?

Take the example of Mr and Mrs Smith who have a 5 year old son called Ben. Mr. Smith always enjoys driving but Mrs. Smith thinks of it more as a convenient way of getting around. Ben often sits in the back of the car whilst one of his parents is driving. After a few years of this he gets asked by a friend at school who the best driver is, mum or dad?

After thinking for a while, he says that his mum is the safest driver - but his dad is the best. Of course, this could be the other way round but, in this case, it is dad who has more confidence, likes to drive quite fast when he can and drives too closely behind other vehicles on the motorway.

When he becomes stressed, through frustration or being late for kick off of Ben’s football match, he has a habit of getting annoyed with other road users and even shouts obscenities through the window. He can also drive one handed and speak on the phone at the same time.

To Ben, this is all very exciting, and he has never seen his dad crash the car so believes this is the best way to drive. Eventually Ben turns 17 and starts to take driving lessons. He already knows what being a good driver is all about because he's been watching his dad for 12 years. Mr Smith doesn't really want to give any private practise to Ben because he's afraid of giving out bad habits. However, it's a bit late for that because the bad habits are now embedded into Ben’s subconscious mind.

This makes it very difficult for the driving instructor to get Ben ready for the test. Some of the bad habits that his dad has, come out in the way Ben likes to drive, such as excessive speed. Eventually Ben passes his test by driving in this ‘over cautious’ way that the driving instructor has taught him and by showing that he is quite capable of being a competent driver.

However, as soon as Ben gets in the car by himself, he starts to revert to the habits that are embedded in his unconscious mind and finds he quite enjoys it, oblivious of the risks he faces because he has never been in a crash. Let’s hope his first ever crash is not the serious one.

Mr. Smith may have got away without having a serious collision, but Ben, as an inexperienced driver, may not be so lucky, particularly when he's carrying friends in the car that distract him.

So, Mr. Smith who is apparently a good driver, is not only deceiving himself but has also taught his son, over many years, how not to be a good driver. This distorted belief of what constitutes a good driver goes on and on through the generations which is why it has become rather disassociated with what's required in the driving test – good habits.

So, going back to what we were saying earlier, most drivers are capable of a good standard of driving but allow their attitude, beliefs, a lack of concentration, stress, and complacency to get in the way of that standard.

Many people will recognise the term autopilot, where you don't remember much about the journey you have just completed, and one of the things that brings you out of autopilot is another driver doing something wrong or dangerous. What you don't notice in autopilot are the hundreds of drivers driving very safely so you rate yourself based on the ones you notice, the bad drivers.

What’s more, when you are on autopilot you will not recognise that you missed a signal here or there, blocked a driveway, or straddled two lanes at a roundabout, all with no idea of vehicles around you. That’s when other drivers have their turn to rate you as less than what should be expected from a good driver.

So, on the face of it, the answer to reducing the fatality rate amongst newly qualified drivers is not just about the training they receive, nor suitability of the test, but it is also about the responsibility of parents to demonstrate a good, safe standard, even if it’s only when the child is watching.

So, any parent of young children would be well advised to get a refresher lesson in driving to be sure those bad habits are not too bad.

Graham Mylward


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