Road Safety News

Overconfidence puts young drivers’ lives on the line: IAM

Friday 25th April 2014

A survey conducted on behalf of the IAM indicates that young drivers are overconfident when it comes to assessing their driving ability.

In the survey of 1,000 young drivers, 71% of respondents said they consider themselves to be  “better than the average driver”.

However, the IAM points to official figures which show that while just 8% of drivers are aged under 25 years, they account for 22% of drivers involved in serious injury and fatal crashes. The IAM also says that, on average, young drivers’ annual mileage is about half that of their older counterparts.

The IAM survey also indicates that young male drivers (75%) exude more confidence than their female counterparts (68%).

Simon Best, IAM chief executive, said: “Our whole system of learning to drive must be overhauled to provide safe exposure to a wider range of traffic situations, but also the chance to discuss attitudes and risks. 

“New drivers feel invulnerable and it is the job of Government, training providers, insurers, charities and parents and carers to ensure they have the best training to reduce risk to themselves and others.”



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The whole ‘better than the average’ driver story has been a popular headline grabber for years and figures are commonly cited about the higher percentage of drivers or riders who think they are better than that. We should remember though that this tells us little about young drivers – similar surveys have been conducted on other age groups with similar results – or the average driver, for which, I believe, there is no satisfactory definition.

Without that objective benchmark for what an average driver is, this survey tells us that of 1000 individuals questioned, 71% held a subjective opinion about both themselves and the slightly nebulous concept of an average driver. Does that mean that young drivers have an inflated opinion of their own expertise or a poor opinion of everyone else’s? A bit of both perhaps. Does it matter? Yes, because one may be considered over-confidence and the other as a lack of empathy with their peers - which is the basis of anti-social behaviour both on and off-road. Interventions for each would be different and our role is to help in the most effective way possible. That’s why it would be good to see organisations investing in very tightly defined surveys with meaningful recommendations for practitioners as outcomes.

The part that really caught my eye in the IAM press notice was under the heading 'Other Findings' and stated: "Nearly a quarter of all car drivers (133 out of 542 drivers) who died in 2012 were young drivers themselves” - which was, in fact, derived not from the survey but from Reported Road Casualties Great Britain, 2012.

This may be saying a lot about the vehicle stock commonly used by younger drivers (even though vehicles are generally getting safer); the types of manoeuvres involved and the characteristics of the collision – including kinetics. All these can be looked into locally using our available collision data and, subsequently, acted on in the support we give to young and newly qualified motorists. But we may need to ask them again about whether they are the over-confident or under-empathetic type before we help them with that as well.
Jeremy Phillips, Devon

Agree (10) | Disagree (0)

The other problem with this survey is that they don’t compare it with 1,000 drivers from the 26-45, 46-65 and over 65 age groups. Do we know if 85% of the 46-65’s think they are better than the average driver, in which case the young drivers are not showing a (relative) overconfidence. However, I don’t suspect this is the case and we need to re-instil in the recently qualified that passing the test means they are basically competent to be allowed unsupervised on the road. To do this it may need them to be restricted in when they can drive and who can be with them.
Mark, Caerphilly

Agree (6) | Disagree (2)

Are these the same 1000 young people 68% of whom felt that, despite learning to pass the test, they need to improve their driving skills?
Honor Byford, Chair Road Safety GB

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Perhaps it would have been more revealing to have asked the respondents in what way they thought they were 'better than average'. Their criteria would no doubt vary from person to person depending on their level of maturity and, I daresay, their ego! Very few people of any age or gender would admit to being a poor driver although they see it in others!
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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How do we gauge this? What questions did the IAM ask, and how did those involved judge what an average might be? The most informative item in this article is through the link to the survey, from which can be linked the Reported Road Casualities Great Britain 2012. It’s 260 pages long.
Derek Reynolds, Salop.

Agree (4) | Disagree (1)

Why must one particular conclusion be continually claimed following such surveys? If 71% said they were safer “than average”, many claim the only conclusion is that drivers must be overconfident because “most” people cannot be “above average”. This is false.

Suppose 100 drivers are assessed and 90 score 7/10, the remaining 10 score 2/10? The average driver score is 6.5 and, therefore, most drivers are above average. Now look around as you drive/walk/cycle. Count the total road users and also count the occasions you see an unsafe manoeuvre. I suspect you might find more than 99% of road users observed seem quite safe, with unsafe actions being rare. I suspect most drivers may be right to say they are safer than average because that may be an accurate assessment of what they observe.

That does not mean we cannot, or do not need to, improve though!
Dave Finney, Slough

Agree (8) | Disagree (5)

Not just young drivers. If you did the same survey amongst all age groups you would get similar results.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

Agree (15) | Disagree (0)

To be fair, I think most male drivers of any age think they're above average which is mathematicaly not possible. What they consider to be 'above average' is actually the average. Must be a male trait.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (14) | Disagree (3)