Road Rage, Long Trips, and Cell Phones

What do road rage, long road trips, and cell phone conversations have in common? Besides the fact that many people have done all of them, sometimes all at once, the answer is that a surprising number of people have misconceptions about each one of them. While these car misconceptions seem plausible on the surface, the law, statistics, and cognitive science say otherwise. Here are the misconceptions:

Road Rage and Aggressive Driving Are the Same Thing

Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, the law sees them as two different things. One will get you fines and higher car insurance premiums, while the other can land you in jail. Aggressive driving is a series of traffic offenses that endanger the driver as well as others on the road. The person engaged in aggressive driving does it for reasons other than threatening another motorist. He may tail gate out of habit or as a way to indicate that he’d like you to speed up or move over into the slower lane. He cuts off another car because he decides that he can pull off the maneuver, not because he wants to intimidate the motorist.

The person who commits road rage uses his car to threaten another motorist. When someone threatens another with bodily harm with an apparent means such as with his car, he is guilty of assault which is a criminal offense. When someone commits road rage against you, you are the target of his dangerous driving. He is venting anger or trying to teach you a lesson by threatening your physical well-being with his car. If you tend to get hot under the collar when driving, think about what it means to be convicted of a criminal offense.

You Are More Likely to Get into an Accident While on a Road Trip

Traffic accidents do escalate during summer holidays when everyone is on the road. However, you are more likely to get into an accident near your home. There are two reasons for this. First, you do most of your driving near your home. You commute daily to and from your home and you do lots of local errands such as buying food, going to nearby stores, and so forth. Driving is risky no matter where you do it. Since most of your mileage is done within a radius of 30 miles of your home, you are more likely to get into an accident within this radius. Statistically, most of your exposure to the risk of driving occurs near your home.

The second reason is that being in familiar territory makes nearly everyone complacent. This familiarity causes them to drive on autopilot which means they aren’t giving their driving the focus that it requires. Relying on muscle memory and pattern recognition to do your driving for you means you are using the non-thinking part of your brain which can’t cope with sudden and unexpected things.

Hands Free Cell Phones Allow You to Drive Safely

The thought here is that unlike texting or other activities that take your eyes off the road, hands free cell phones let you see the road at all times and is therefore safe. However, your mind is either focused on the conversation or is split between your driving and the phone call. Driving requires your full attention. Hands free cell phone use is a cognitive distraction.

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