Think you’re a pretty good driver? You’re not alone…

Once we get behind the wheel, we all magically become geniuses.

How do you rate your own driving ability?

It’s a simple enough question, and yet the typical answer tells us lots about human psychology – and safe driving.

Psychologists have been popping the driving ability question for many years now and the results continue to amaze. As it turns out, most people consider themselves above-average drivers.

In one well known study, Swedish psychologist Ola Svenson asked both Swedish and American students to rank their driving skills relative to others. Sixty-nine percent of the Swedish students rated themselves as better than average. For the American students, it was 93%.

It’s close to forty years since that study was published, but things don’t seem to have changed much. In 2014, two American researchers found that college students still rated themselves as above-average drivers. And when they were asked what constituted ‘good driving’, they thought their definitions were above average too (before you ask: yes, the surveys have been carried out in groups other than students, and yes, the results are broadly similar).

Now, seeing as most people can’t be above average (assuming we mean median, clever-clogs!), something about our judgement is seriously skewy. The simple truth is that, relative to others, most people overestimate their own driving ability. It’s an error in our thinking called illusory superiority. We don’t just apply this to driving – for example, in one enormous study of perceived social skills, only 1% of high-school students rated theirs as below average.

Illusory superiority explains a lot about our driving and our attitudes toward others on the road.

Look at that idiot!

Many of us are – to put it mildly – a wee bit judgemental about other people’s driving. It’s summed up in the saying, “everyone going slower than me is an idiot, everyone going faster is a maniac.” Regardless of the situation, the other guy is in the wrong. Often, we feel obliged to let him know – by headlights, the car horn or a wide variety of gestures.

Of course, sometimes other people do drive badly. They’re not robots. But here’s the thing: neither are we. No matter how good you think your driving is, chances are that in the last year, you’ve made dozens of poor driving decisions. It’s illusory superiority that stops us from seeing that. It makes us quickly forget our own faults, whilst seeing others’ with 20/20 clarity.

But the problems caused by illusory superiority don’t stop there. Apart from turning us into judgemental nightmares, there’s evidence that it makes our driving less safe.

You’re not a brilliant multi-tasker.

No, you can’t drive and text perfectly well.

Over-estimating our driving ability is particularly dangerous when it comes to multi-tasking. American researcher David Sanbonmatsu looked at this by asking people about (a) their ability to multi-task and (b) their use of a mobile phone when driving. Not surprisingly, people who thought they were better at multi-tasking were more likely to use a phone.

Then he tested their actual multi-tasking ability.

The surprise finding is that those who thought they were better at multi-tasking were actually worse. So, it turns out that the people most likely to distract themselves when driving are exactly the people who shouldn’t be doing that. Illusory superiority strikes again.

We can also be misled by our driving record. In the UK, researcher Dr Samantha Jamson found that drivers who haven’t had an accident for years are prone to overestimating their own ability. They imagine that their good record results from their superior skill, but rigorous testing shows that their ability is no better than anyone else’s.

According to Dr Jamson, one of the keys to good driving is having an accurate picture of one’s own abilities behind the wheel. Once we know that, we can take steps to compensate for our individual weaknesses.

OK, we’re willing to admit that we might be average drivers, but we rate our own service as well above that…and so do our customers. Whether your vehicle is Skoda, VW, Audi or SEAT (or any other marque), WVS is here for your MOT, servicing and repair needs. Please get in touch with our friendly team.