Driver Knowledge Tests

Which drivers are most at risk of having a crash?

We all have some risk of having a crash when we drive; it’s why insurance costs so much. But, some drivers are more at risk than others, and it’s not always obvious. Various studies, including one with 3500 drivers, have found some traits in our emotions, psychology and habits that make us worse behind the wheel.

Emotional factors

Anger: drivers that get angry quickly make rash decisions. They are more likely to get into road rage incidents and drive vindictively. Being angry with another motorist is distracting as the focus goes on that motorist and not on the rest of the traffic and hazards.

Sadness and depression: drivers that drive with deep sadness or depression are also distracted. They are more fatalistic when driving. Driving when sad or angry increases accident risk by almost ten times.

Empathy: drivers who are more empathetic tend to have less risk behind the wheel. They can see the potential effects their actions could have on other road users. Empathy can be affected by life situations such as losing a loved on in an accident, having a child, and even getting older.

Over-confidence: young drivers tend to suffer from over-confidence in their abilities.

Psychological factors

Risk-seeking personalities don’t always make worse drivers. Studies have found that while they drive faster they simply become more skilled at driving faster. The factor that influences whether they are more at risk is whether they are present-focused as opposed to future- or past-focused.

Future-focused people tend to be sensible: they have savings and think about their retirement, and they worry about what could happen if it was all taken away.

Past-focused people reminisce and take solace in their memories and interactions.

However, present-focused people tend to ‘live for the moment’ and can act hedonistically. They are often less concern with how their actions affect others. More men than women are present-orientated and this is also reflected in the statistics (although, this is not direct causation as many other factors are involved).

Optimists are slightly more at risk because they tend to be worse at planning and judging how much time they will need to make a journey.

Habitual factors

People who are poor at time management tend to rush around more. Being in a hurry means speeding and taking risks, such as running red lights.

Drug and alcohol users increase their risk up to 36 times of an accident when they are using.

We all know that talking on a phone increases the risk of a crash
We all know that talking on a phone increases the risk of a crash

Habitual technology users – people who are wedded to their phones – increase their risk. Dialling a phone heightens the risk of a crash by more than 12 times, reaching for the mobile by almost five times, and talking on a mobile by more than two times. Even programming the sat nav while on the move increases the risk almost five times, and changing the radio doubles the risk.

Employment factors

People who drive for work are more exposed because they spend longer on the road. They are more likely to be distracted thinking about the meeting they are going to, or the one they’ve just been to. There are time pressures to get to meetings and be productive (time spent in the car isn’t seen as productive).

Often, the phone is going and there’s a pressure to not ‘miss the sale’ or deliver a bad customer experience.

Deliveries mean distractions looking for the address, plus pressure to get it there on time. There is more traffic, usually driven by other people at work who are distracted.

Some employees work shifts and this can mean fatigued driving is a problem which can be addressed by training and having a fatigue management plan.

Drivers often drive a different vehicle for work and they may not be as familiar with that vehicle, or it’s different in subtle ways to their own (such as the indicator stalk being on the opposite side) and this causes mental load.

Age factors

A lot of risk when driving is based around experience. Young people have quick reactions, but only to simple and obvious hazards. Complex hazards that they haven’t experienced present more problems: they see what is happening but they don’t know what they are looking at.

The risk is elevated by the fact that they also tend to drive cheaper cars which are less capable and have fewer safety features.

Young drivers are also under more pressure to meet their employer’s expectations.


Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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