How to Avoid Being that Driver Everybody Hates

by | Jun 2, 2010 05:17 PM ET

I'm sure everyone has had days when their ability to drive, for whatever reason, is all of a sudden about as skillful as someone who thinks fixing a garbage disposal would be best accomplished by sticking his or her hands down it when those sharp sure-I-can-amputate-that! blades are a-spinning. Bad move.

So what exactly suddenly turns us into spongy bungling menaces when we're encompassed in merciless metal death machines weighing thousands of murderous pounds? And prompt everyone around us to experience murderous road rage at our blinding ineptitude? Well apparently, lots of things!

Thanks to the kids over at, some interesting evidence for this scary phenomenon recently hit my radar. And funnily enough, in at least one instance, I found myself a member of the minority in the scientific evidence at hand. Apparently, young men are more likely than young women to engage in risky driving after playing racing driving games. But several years ago I briefly became a fan of Grand Theft Auto and I remember jumping in the car after particularly long sessions and finding myself somewhat hard-pressed to resist the urge to drive up onto the sidewalk. Luckily, I managed to refrain from such activity.

In general, however, younger gamers tend to admit to more risky driving after playing racing games than those who aren't that into gaming (although they are more likely to pass their driver's test on the first go). Unfortunately, according to one poll, 34 percent disagree and think racing games actually improve their skills behind the wheel. Tragic accidents like this one make that claim seem a little dubious, although there are some who disagree that there's a widespread link between games like Need for Speed and car crashes.

But that doesn't leave women entirely off the hook. According to another study, being a female or being gay is also supposedly a bit of a handicap in terms of savvy driving skills. Apparently those demographics tend to suffer from a lack of spatial awareness (remember that lady who almost ran you off the road as she tried to change lanes) and both also display poor navigational skills when compared to straight men.

Cell phones are another major cause of car accidents, as many as one in four, according to one source. And an interesting phenomenon known as the Dunning–Kruger effect could explain why still more people are sometimes terrible drivers. They suffer from a cognitive bias that simultaneously tells them they are awesome and everyone else is awful at any given task, driving included. It's the perfect recipe for a downright dangerous driver.

Typically too, bad weather and being elderly are also not helpful if you're hoping for some excellent driving. Bad weather is a factor in 24 percent of all crashes and the elderly are also involved in crashes at an alarming rate. Out of some 34 million U.S. citizens over 65, 183,000 were involved in wrecks that led to injuries in 2008. And although seniors make up only 13 percent of the population, they're responsible for 15 percent of all traffic fatalities and 18 percent of all pedestrian fatalities. Of course teens are even worse -- they manage to crash at disastrous rates -- and don't even get us started on drunk people. Or the ultimate triumvirate of highway horror: A drunk teen who just got done playing a racing game!

Anyway, bottom line? It starts to seem pretty miraculous any of us manage to survive out there on the open road. And if at this point you've managed to stay tucked into the tiny demographic of supposedly safe drivers, congratulations.

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