We came across an interesting piece the other day on The Truth About Cars website. Writer Seth Parks discusses the problems associated with fearful drivers and goes so far as to claim that fearful drivers “are the greatest ignored danger on the road today.”
Overly cautious drivers are all around us, and they do pose a hazard by obstructing traffic and confusing other drivers, whether driven by fear or simple indecisiveness. We’ve all seen drivers who hesitate or stop when trying to merge onto a busy highway, or are too timid to make a needed lane change, causing sudden braking and swerving.
All of these maneuvers require some nerve; they also require the driver to step on the gas, something many appear loath to do. This ties back to the famous Solomon Curve showing that drivers traveling below the prevailing speed of traffic are involved in more accidents than drivers traveling above that speed.
It also reminds us of the Google cars that always obey the speed limit, no matter the road conditions. They’ve been getting hit from behind because they can’t speed up to match the flow of traffic. And while these driverless vehicles may not be “at fault” in the legal sense, they certainly bear some responsibility since they don’t adjust to road conditions as a competent human driver would.
Parks points out that fearful driving leads to a range of unsafe driving behaviors:
Ill advised signaling, poor lane choice, and misplaced courtesy put other motorists and pedestrians at risk. Psychologists have long understood the challenge posed by a fear of driving, which at the extreme can be exhibited as panic attacks and freezing. Fearful drivers also demonstrate less catastrophic symptoms, such as confusion and disorientation.
Some of this he attributes to legitimate driving phobias like vehophobia and amaxophobia. These conditions exist on a spectrum, and the severely afflicted rarely get behind the wheel, whereas those with milder symptoms drive daily. Parks believes that these people either don’t recognize their symptoms or don’t believe their condition poses a risk to others.
He also points out that some fearful drivers hide behind politeness. We’ve all seen them. Drivers who wave you through an intersection even though they have the right-of-way. Parks recounts an example from Oregon where a motorist with the right-of-way waved another through a four-way stop. This created confusion and led to an accident in which a cyclist was hit and seriously injured.
We’ve also seen examples of “polite” drivers who stop mid-stream to let another vehicle enter the road from a parking lot. These maneuvers not only hold up traffic, they’re dangerous, especially when entering vehicles have to cross multiple lanes.
Here’s the scenario: The first driver stops in the middle of traffic to create a gap for a second vehicle to enter the roadway. The second vehicle makes its move but can’t see the third vehicle coming up fast in another lane. The third driver has no idea any of this is occurring because he’s not a mind reader and because stopped traffic is blocking his view.
We’ve witnessed the resulting accidents firsthand, all because a timid driver thought he would do another driver a “favor.” If you’re ever on the receiving end of such generosity, don’t take the bait. Stay put and insist that Mr. Courteous step on the gas and be on his way.