Experience May Lead to Overconfidence

Are more experienced drivers better drivers? At least one fleet safety director disagrees. He says that he spends much of his time training new hires, but recently he has been troubled by what appears to be a contradiction among his more experienced drivers — an increase rather than a reduction in the number of accidents after about five years on the job.

Industry watchers believe that this validates what they have considered a safety factor that has been largely ignored in studies of highway safety: The human tendency to take more chances as the perception of risk declines. In other words, many drivers acquire a false sense of security as their skills improve, and this leads to their taking greater risks, which produces more accidents.

Along the same lines, it is thought that people adapt their behavior to changes in conditions, meaning that the safer the vehicle or the highway, the greater the amount of risk an individual is willing to take, or vice versa. For example, the perceived threat of accidents is so high on some roads and intersections that drivers are more careful. So, while training and education help drivers identify risks on the road, drivers with more experience are more likely to take risks because they think their experience reduces the risk of an accident.

Another industry researcher says it is difficult changing driver behavior: “There are some fundamental human characteristics that make us less capable and less cautious as drivers than we would like to be.”

Consequently, at least one fleet manager is spending more resources and attention to refresher training courses for all of its drivers.

But another theory put forth by this researcher is that all vehicle drivers' risky actions cause almost all highway crashes. It's difficult to put an exact figure to that theory, but the “generally accepted” number is 85 percent, based on multidisciplinary accident investigation studies, he says.

In addition, the feeling is that motivations are more important than capabilities; that is, being in a hurry, distracted, in a bad mood, etc., dictates driver behavior.