They’re Not Strictly Accidents

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Car accidents are a result of human behaviour

Car driving implies constantly making choices. In this sense car driving is a challenging task and it becomes obvious when we compare it for example with a captain of an airline plane whose freedom of choice is a great deal smaller.

He does not have to think about whether to overtake or not, change lanes, maintain a proper safety margin at different speeds, when and how much to reduce speed before a bend, to give way or not, or how to behave in those many unclear situations occurring with other traffic users. To be clear, a car driver’s behaviour is not only the result of free choice, but it is to a much higher extent than the behaviour of an airplane captain. The pilot mainly has to react to clear procedures, whereas the car driver often has to react to procedures (general signs and laws), but he has -in contrast to the pilot – a greater degree of freedom. The following examples will illustrate that a driver’s behaviour is a result of both reactions to procedures and free choices and shall make this distinction clear in order to be aware of the importance of choice-making in accidents: When the traffic light is red the driver simply has to react to the law and stop his car (of course he could break the rules on purpose), but when the traffic light changes from green to orange and red the driver has a few seconds of free choice, whether to pass or to stop.

When overtaking is forbidden the normal driver behaviour reacts accordingly and especially when oncoming traffic appears closely no normal driver would think about having a free choice, even if he would be in a different mood (in a hurry or aggressive at the moment, etc.). But in situations without this prohibition or with less dense traffic the choices if, when and where to overtake will vary from person to person and will also depend on the driver’s mood at the moment.

Further clear examples of free choices are: looking to the left one, two or even three times before crossing a road, turning the heater on now or ten seconds later when the traffic situation is less complicate, the steering and seating position etc.

Human behaviour – here in the sense of permanent choice making – on the road is not only determined by skills and knowledge, because of the high degree of freedom when steering a car. Already the permanent choice of speed provides a rather wide range in each situation. Considering the fact that we for example choose higher speed in the same situation when we are in a hurry makes clear, that human behaviour is in addition to knowledge and skills also influenced by acuteness or moods, personal believes and the self-awareness of these conditions influencing our choices (analogous to the two higher levels and the right column of the GDE-matrix).

Because of the high degree of freedom when making choices as a car driver in the second, this task shall not be understood as a skill- or knowledge-based one only. In order to avoid accidents car driving shall rather be understood as a (psycho-) social task. Social behaviour is not primarily determined by skills and knowledge but acuteness or moods, personal believes or convictions and self-awareness of these conditions influencing our choices. Consequently, didactical methods for driver education must not only focus on traditional educational methods like teaching in schools which focuses on knowledge and skills mainly. Car drivers’ education shall also focus on self-awareness skills of acuteness, moods, motives, believes and attitudes and on how these factors influence the choices on the road.

The most recent method to optimise and change these factors is coaching. Coaching means discovering the individual’s possibilities and to develop them in a supportive and challenging way.





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