Telling road users who they are and what they do: can they profit?

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<ul><li><p>John A Michon University of Groningen, The Netherlands </p><p>Telling road users who they are and what they do: can they profit? </p><p>The points to be raised in this introduction are first of all intended to provide some frame of reference for the papers that follow, and secondly, to indicate that the approach adopted in several of these papers should be considered as an important effort to introduce a new angle or perspective on the psychology of the road user. For various reasons the relevant psychological work in this area has been dominated in the past by the engineers philosophy that it is easy to change hardware but difficult to change people and that, therefore, we should do the first rather than bother with the latter. Consequently most of the - considerable - improvements achiev- ed through psychological research during the last 20 or 25 years have been in the hardware components of the system that directly relate to human performance: vehicle ride and handling characteristics, view from the vehicle, operational comfort, road markings, lighting, signs and signals. </p><p>The present societal climate favours anti-technological attitudes and this would seem to support new attempts to persuade and to teach people, rather than the introduction of even more sophisticated technological system improvements. Moreover, so many relatively cheap improvements of this kind have already been incorporated, or at least considered for incorporation, that further improvements may well require rather large capital in- vestments that society is not (yet) prepared to pay for. Thus, for ex- ample, automatic traffic guidance would be technically feasible and it would greatly improve safety, comfort, and energy consumption, but its introduction now would simply be too expensive. </p><p>International Review of Applied Psychology (SAGE, London and Beverly Hills), Vol. 29 (1980), 399-413 </p></li><li><p>400 John A. Michon </p><p>There is, however, another, scientifically more sound reason favouring efforts to better implement the facts and findings of social and educational psychology in the area of traffic safety. The recent advances in instructional psychology, exemplified in Klahr (1976) or Glaser (1978), and in the cognitive approach to motiva- tional theory (e.g. Mandler, 1975) seem to provide new inputs that may eventually lead to better understood, more effective techni- ques of positively influencing road user behaviour. </p><p>Thus, i t appears that there is reason enough for a more extensive contribution of social and educational psychology to the main body of traffic psychology. But the easy acceptance of such a contribu- tion by the traffic decision makers, the politicians, and the traffic engineers is not only a matter of the prevailing humanistic climate. Contributions to the field of traffic research should first and foremost be guided by an evaluation of the possibility that what is proposed can indeed provide policy-sensitive insights. In my opinion much more attention should be paid to such an evalua- tion by the research community, before claims are made about the relevance of academic studies to the real world traffic environment. It is in this light that the reader should see the notes that follow: if they appear critical, it is because my concern has been to raise a few questions that should at least be considered before we may safely claim that we have made a contribution to the improvement of the road traffic system. </p><p>The nature of the problem </p><p>Over the years psychologists have in several ways tried to find solu- tions to problems related to unsafe traffic behaviour. The problem of road safety is quite formidable: in their paper Knapper and Cropley point out, for instance, that the numbers of people killed and injured in road traffic accidents exceed the number of casualties of many wars on a per annum basis. In a similar vein Stonex (1965) suggested that it is almost as if the automotive system is precisely that which we would have built if our objective had been to kill as many people as possible. Yet this seems a view from a somewhat exaggerated perspective; in most industrialized coun- tries the average probability for members of the general population of dying from a traffic accident is approximately one in a million per hour of traffic participation. This risk level is not different from the likelihood of dying from just living - that too is close to </p></li><li><p>Telling.road users who they are 401 </p><p>one in a million per hour of life. Also, on ape r mile basis road traf- fic has become about five times as safe as it was 100 years ago when there were no automobiles and horses were dominating the scene. Even over the last twenty years we have seen a very considerable gain in safety on a per mile basis. Nevertheless, most people enter- tain the understandable feeling that these numbers are not too rele- vant, that it is simply improper to die of a road accident and that therefore something ought to be done to reduce the number of such accidents. And as it has been established that in more than three quarters of all accidents the human factor plays a decisive role, at least part of what ought to be done would seem to be of a psychological nature. </p><p>Psychologists have accepted the challenge, but their efforts thus far have met with quite different degrees of success. Earlier they concerned themselves mostly with the search for personality factors that would predispose for accident involvement (Shaw and Sichel, 1971). This approach has not been very successful, and few resear- chers are now active in the field of driver selection. It should be pointed out however that the overall failure of this attempt may have been mostly due to the classical mental test approach that has dominated the field. It may well be that a more ethological classification of behaviour patterns or a psychological typology in terms of stress coping patterns will be more successful (Michon, 1979). </p><p>Experimental psychology has meanwhile shown that the ap- proach of ergonomically fitting the job to the worker is indeed very successful if it is applied to the road traffic system (e.g. Black, 1966; Forbes, 1972; Shinar, 1978). </p><p>The third approach that psychologists have adopted is educa- tional: not only can the traffic environment be changed, it should also be possible to modify the human component in the system in such a way that it becomes better adapted to its task. As far as the training of basic traffic skills is concerned this assumption has received considerable support. Yet, the ability to perform these basic skills would seem to constitute only part of what appears to determine good roadzusership. And thus we may ask what other elements might be incorporated into the education of the road user. In the first four papers that follow the (partial) answer given to this question is that we must teach road users insight into the motiva- tional determinants of traffic behaviour and, more specifically, </p></li><li><p>402 John A. Michon </p><p>into those factors that determine patterns of social interaction on the road. </p><p>Social interaction and attitudes </p><p>There is no doubt that such factors do indeed play an important role in the behaviour of one road user towards the other. The studies reviewed by Wilde in the first part of his paper indicate, for instance, that such factors as the sexes of the persons involved, their (perceived) social status, and the pecking order among the makes of their vehicles constitute important, so-called salient cues that influence interactive behaviour in traffic situation. Other road users are not simply moving, otherwise passive objects that we only have to avoid while we are travelling from A to B. Rather, as Bliersback and Dellen point out, depending on ones own basic driving pattern the other road user will be perceived either as vir- tually non-existent, as an underling, as a competitor, or as an obstacle to be avoided, and sometimes perhaps even as a fellow human being who, like ourselves, is trying to make the most of a difficult situation. </p><p>The main point of agreement between the authors of the first four papers in this issue is that ways ought to be found to make such motivational determinants of social interaction in traffic more explicit, and to make this knowledge available to all traffic par- ticipants by incorporating it into the traffic education curriculum. We might be able to teach better traffic behaviour if we could identify the attitudes and opinions in the area of interpersonal relations, out of which observable driver behaviour arises. For in- stance, providing traffic participants with insight into their motiva- tional patterns might help to reduce the high level of aggression that is so characteristic for much of todays traffic. More generally Hauber, in his paper, as well as Bliersbach and Dellen suggest that such insight would help reduce such negative affects as anger, ag- gression, withdrawal, etc. </p><p>I tend to agree with these implicit claims foj increasing the ap- plication of social psychological knowledge to the problems of road traffic. They do in fact signal a trend that already has become very conspicuous in another area of traffic research, namely travel de- mand analysis. Perceptions and attitudes have become regular in- puts, in addition to socio-economic variables such as income and housing, in many studies dealing with the choice of destination, </p></li><li><p>Telling road users who they are 403 </p><p>type of vehicle or route (e.g. Stopher and Meyburg, 1976; Hensher and Dalvi, 1978). </p><p>The recent impact of attitudes on behavioural travel demand modelling may seem somewhat surprising. Around 1970 many social research psychologists were thoroughly convinced that at- titude measurement was on its way out of scientific psychology. The correlations between attitude scales and the corresponding behavioural criteria turned out to be generally low and highly erratic. Since then a revival has begun, not least because of the theoretical developments initiated by Ajzen and Fishbein (1977). As a result, the relationship between attitude and behaviour has been put on a more appropriate footing, implying, firstly, that at- titudes influence behaviour only indirectly and, secondly, that the levels of measurement of the attitudes and the corresponding behaviour should be of the same level of specificity. If proper care is taken, a moderately high correlation - usually of the order of 0.40 - between attitude and behaviour may be expected (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1977). Such findings have made the application of at- titudinal or, rather more generally, judgmental data to travel de- mand analysis seem a less uncertain prospect than it appeared only a short while ago. </p><p>If there is any doubt in my mind about the success to be expected from this approach it is not because of a priori impossibility to describe or predict certain aspects of traffic behaviour on the basis of a known (or inferred) cognition or attitude. However, I still entertain strong doubts as to whether any progress will be made unless we succeed in formulating a cognitive framework in which the relevant knowledge about perceptions and attitudes, and the observable behavioural patterns connected with them, can be ex- plained in a way that is understandable to the average road user. We shall have to answer two crucial questions that must be raised in any attempt to substantiate the claim that we should teach the motivation, attitudes and preconceptions that underlie social in- teractive behaviour on the road: </p><p>- Does the proposed framework provide an effective theory of driving behaviour? - Does the proposed framework offer a viable educational strategy? </p><p>The first question deals with the what, the second with the how of </p></li><li><p>404 John A. Mrchon </p><p>educating road users in terms of social interaction and motivation. In the following two sections I will explain in more detail why, in my opinion, these two questions are so important. </p><p>Cognitive structures as effective theories about behaviour </p><p>The cognitive approach to behaviour is based on the assumption that action is the result of testing an internal representation of the task at hand, that is, a cognitive structure that incorporates at least the structural relations that are relevant for an adequate perfor- mance of that task. Upon the coding of perceptual inputs, hypotheses about the outcomes of alternative actions in response to these inputs are generated and tested internally, and depending on the outcomes of these tests a particular action is decided upon. </p><p>These internal cognitive structures need not, and cannot, be com- plete. They should be effective though; that is, the output that they generate'should, by and large, be appropriate to deal with the cir- cumstances. If a cognitive structure is not effective about behaviour in this sense, performance will frequently be erroneous and such unwanted consequences as neurotic behaviours, anxiety, or panic may follow. In this context what we call learning consists of implementing an effective cognitive structure, while remedial training and psychotherapy are systematic efforts to change inef- fective structures into effective ones (cf. Mandler, 1975). </p><p>In driving it is not different: here too we should attempt to im- pose on the driver an effective cognitive structure that will produce expert driving as its output under all circumstances. Effective struc- tures can be formulated fairly easily for the skill of driving. On the basis of a thorough analysis of the basic demands of the driving task, such as steering, braking, overtaking or crossing intersec- tions, it is possible to define a hierarchy of instructional goals, and to implement a training curriculum for achieving these goals in an effective way (e.g. McKnight and Adams, 1970; Veling, 1977a, 1977b). </p><p>The papers by Knapper and Cropley and B!iersbach and Dellen aim at a different goal, namely at identifying the attitudes and opi- nions in the area of interpersonal relations from which the actual behaviour of the driver results. And they do so by studying the ways in which people organize, comprehend and react to traffic situations in terms of attitudes, and values. The main question is whether this approach is in fact instrumental to the ultimate goals of producing an effective cognitive theory of road user behaviour </p></li><li><p>Telling road users who they are 405 </p><p>that would have to lie at the base of any viable educational pro- gramme. </p><p>It should be emphasized that we should not be looking for a theory about conscious outputs such as feelings, opinions and at- titudes. Rather we need a theory about the processing structures that produce such conscious outputs. If we wish to influence feel- ings it is not the content of the feelings that matter but the effective causes for those feelings; in a similar way we should provide a bad cook with better recipes rather than try to convince him of the of- fensive taste of his dishes. The reason is that people are not normal- ly well-info...</p></li></ul>