Road Safety News

Study identifies different driving personalities

Thursday 20th August 2015

Research carried out by social psychologists from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has revealed seven driving personalities, based on how drivers deal with their own feelings and their uncertainty as to the behaviour of other road users.

The findings are part of an ongoing study on the social psychology of road safety conducted jointly by LSE and the tyre manufacturer Goodyear.

Through a combination of focus groups and in-depth interviews with European drivers, the researchers identified the following seven personalities which frequently manifest themselves:

• The Teacher: needs to make sure other drivers know what they have done wrong and expects recognition of his/her efforts to teach others.

• The Know-it-all: thinks he/she is surrounded by incompetent fools and contents themselves with shouting condescendingly at other drivers while being protected in their own car.

• The Competitor: needs to get ahead of all other drivers and is annoyed when someone gets in the way of that. He/she might accelerate when someone tries to overtake them or close a gap to prevent anyone from getting in front of them.

• The Punisher: wants to punish other drivers for any perceived misbehavior. Might end up getting out of his/her car or approaching other drivers directly.

• The Philosopher: accepts misbehavior easily and tries to rationally explain it. Manages to control his/her feelings in the car.

• The Avoider: treats misbehaving other drivers impersonally, dismisses them as a hazard.

• The Escapee: listens to music or talks on the phone to insulate him/herself. Escapees distract themselves with selected social relationships so that they do not have to relate to any of the other drivers on the road. It’s also a strategy for not getting frustrated in the first place.

Dr. Chris Tennant, social psychologist, who is leading the research project at LSE, said: “Much of the time we can sit happily in the comfortable bubble of our car, but around any corner we may have to interact with other drivers. This makes the road a challenging and uncertain social environment.

“While we may worry about others’ driving, this research suggests that their behaviour also depends on what we do. We create the personalities that we don’t like.

“From a psychological point of view, these different types of personalities represent different outlets that drivers use to deal with their frustrations and strong feelings. We are not always entirely one or the other. Depending on the situation and the interaction with others, most of us will find several of these profiles emerge.”

The personality types emerged out of the first part of the joint research project, which takes a qualitative look into driving behaviour. With the research, LSE and Goodyear are seeking to identify how drivers influence each other’s behaviour on the road.

The second part of the project is a pan-European study across 15 countries. The final results and analysis of the European-wide study are expected in October.


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If personality types could be easily attributable to individuals, perhaps they should be taken into account when assessing insurance premiums. They could also go down as contributory factors for Stats 19 purposes.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (1) | Disagree (8)

Stuff like this has been pouring out of university psychology departments since the dawn of time, but that doesn't make it right.

Dr Tennant is nearly correct when he says "We are not always entirely one or the other. Depending on the situation and the interaction with others, most of us will find several of these profiles emerge." I would go further and say that it is ALL the profiles that emerge in each and every one of us and whichever one emerges is entirely dependent upon the circumstances in which we might find ourselves.
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

Agree (13) | Disagree (9)

Yes Duncan but the question is does it actually make it wrong? I can identify some people that I know, including myself who would fit nicely into some of these categories. I don't fully believe that we are all the categories at different times but I believe that we could merge several of these and react accordingly to a stimulus.
Bob Craven Lancs....Space is Safe Campaigner

Agree (10) | Disagree (1)

Good well balance article. During my own studies of driver psychology (Open University) I identified 3 types. Basically we put these 7 into 3 pairs and did not pick up on the escapee. Teacher and know it all together, Competitor and punisher and philosopher and avoider. Recently I have been working with some theorists at the University of Virginia and we are adding vehicle type to the equation.

When I drive my Jaguar I tend to want to compete but in my 2CV I know I can't so I tend to behave differently. The Americans are also looking at road type and congestion where one type will change when amongst large numbers of other drivers and differing roads, rural and freeway. Always an interesting subject and can be transferred to all road user groups especially cyclists.
Peter Westminster

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Could Peter elaborate on 'wanting to compete' and how does this manifest itself when he's driving? Would he describe himsef as having a competitive personality anyway?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (3) | Disagree (4)

Hugh, Not really competitive but when you own a car with exceptional performance there is often the urge to use it which is why I sometimes went on track days. When some youngster thinks they can out run you from the lights the red mist can and has sometimes taken over.
Peter Westminster

Agree (8) | Disagree (1)

Apparently I am generally both a Philosopher and an avoider, not sure there's much difference between the 2. It's likely that I have been influenced by research into road safety but I also assume that being any of the other personalities, particularly while on a motorbike or bicycle, might not end well! Would officials (Police officers, road safety council workers, etc) generally tend to be Teachers, Know-it-alls and, obviously, Punishers?

If these 7 personalities really do exist, but without evidence of which personalities crash more frequently, is any of this of practical use for road safety?
Dave Finney, Slough

Agree (13) | Disagree (3)

Did you choose your car because it had 'exceptional performance' Peter and if so was there a reason - possibly subconsciously? I'm not criticising by the way - I'm sure we've all owned such cars one at some time, especially in our youth and after all, practically every car on the road has performance far in excess of what we ever need anyway - perhaps the manufacturers should be encouraged to only produce cars with moderate acceleration and top speeds to discourage competitiveness.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (1) | Disagree (10)

The practical use question is a good one and I feel confident that there is. The most immediate opportunity may be in the area of diversionary courses for traffic violations. I personally think there may be greater merit in segregating road users along these types of lines rather than purely by offence type. The latter approach is convenient and there’s an inherent logic in it in an enforcement-related environment. However, in terms of supporting behavioural change it makes less and less sense the more specific and niche the offence becomes. Segregating the person and not the offence – by which I mean affording to the client an intervention more closely tailored to who they are; how they learn and the motivational triggers to which they are most likely to respond – seems a more sustainable approach to me.

Early steps on this would be interventions that accounted for age and experience – and this is now starting to happen. Where I would like us to be is offering interventions tailored to the needs of individuals (or groups of individuals with shared characteristics) using profiles derived from combined data such us demographics; personality types; preferred learning styles; behavioural motivators and collision types. Not an exclusive list perhaps but at least indicative of where I’d like to be coming from.

We did look at doing this some years back but ran into the problem of finding a balance between profiling techniques that would pass scientific scrutiny and the ability to screen quickly enough and early enough to divert the client to the correct intervention. Still not there unfortunately but these types of studies give me confidence we are moving ever closer.
Jeremy, Devon

Agree (9) | Disagree (2)

I can also see some mileage in say designing training interventions for different circumstances such as those we are talking about. For example for a motorcyclist making a nuisance around town and then giving him a free Advanced Riders course is going to be totally unsuitable for him as it is primarily designed to help a rider get from A to be in the fastest and safest time on country roads and doesn't take in his apparent poor attitude to riding. That would not only be a complete waste of time but in some circumstances very dangerous.
Bob Craven Lancs...|Space is Safe Campaigner

Agree (6) | Disagree (1)

Perhaps one of the behaviourists out there could tell us which of the seven personalities represents the one they would like everybody to adopt? When the talk is of behaviour change surely there must be a target behaviour/personality that people must be guided towards rather than one that they have to be guided away from?
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

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Practical use: We determine the personalities of offenders and they attend the course designed for their personality type. The most important step is to perform the process within simple scientific trials. If the offender profiling is accurate and the courses are effective, the trials will prove this beyond a reasonable doubt.

If, otoh, the trials show no benefit or, indeed, a negative outcome, we will know a different approach is needed. The trials will not only have saved lives directly, but they will also lead to new insights into road safety and to diversion of scarce resources into other policies, some of which the trials will prove do save lives. A double victory.
Dave Finney, Slough

Agree (9) | Disagree (3)

Hugh, I've always admired Jaguars and a mid life crisis came at a time I could buy one. Went for the S Type mainly for cruise comfort and looks but the power did add to the mix. Not practical going to the tip full of garden waste in leather seats but on trips through France and into Italy it was smooth. Did have a faster car when younger.
Peter, Westminster

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Unfortunately, I don't think it's possible to get people to adopt different personalities - if such a thing were possible, no doubt a lot of society's problems could be sorted at the same time. Even those who have found out the hard way whether by experiencing a serious collison themselves, or penalties points/fines/imprisonment even, don't always learn by their mistakes. The news article may be interesting and no doubt has some truth in it, but correcting the 'wrong' personalities is another matter. Removing the wrong sort from the roads by driving bans - even if only temporarily - is a solution albeit short-term.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (3) | Disagree (9)

I'm partial to large luxury cars myself Peter, having owned and driven many, but always felt that they induced a more relaxed, laid back style of driving, far removed from the behaviour of those behind the wheel of overtly sporty cars with 'performance' and who may possibly feel the need to show off their choice of transport to others! One doesn't see RRs, Bentleys and the like screeching away from the lights too often.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (3) | Disagree (7)

Hugh should be careful what he wishes for!

The top speeds of my cars over the years have ranged from 22mph to 150mph, and I am in no doubt whatever which are safer. Anyone who thinks that slower cars are safer has plenty of choice, few seem to exercise it.

Anyone proposing that psychologists should be allowed to determine who holds a driving licence needs his head examined.
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield

Agree (8) | Disagree (7)

I think Hugh is correct in saying personalities are hard to change. Those who like big luxurious cars that exude comfort and style, are not normally attracted to aggressive driving. But much of this comes from experience and in some way training. Educating responsible driving in all 'types' is a vital component to road safety in general. But it's hard to establish same amongst the young and hot headed. Since mankind saw and rode his first thoroughbread, excitement took control, and for many, still does.
Derek Reynolds, Salop.

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In biking you are what you ride. A pocket rocket is a sports bike and many would ride them as if on the track. That doesn't discriminate with age as I know some head the ball 70 year olds. A Goldwing or a Harley Davidson tourer on the other hand is only about 10% of bikes on the road and are usually driven more sedately. Street bikes are commuters and can mix it with heavy traffic. Adventure bikes have taken a lot of riders from pocket rockets and other bikes as riders grow older and are increasingly popular. They are therefore becoming the new problem bike. All the bikes mentioned are capable of speeds from 130mph up to near 200 mph. It makes me wonder just why when the legal speed limit is as fast as many can go in just first gear.

It also seems that every time the government place restrictions on power and speed the manufacturers find a way round the obstacle. For example we now have 125 (considered a training machine) that if slightly adjusted can be made capable of speeds well over 90 mph. How can that be safe?
Bob Craven Lancs...Space is Safe Campaigner

Agree (2) | Disagree (3)

If every driver had the same knowledge, attitude and understanding that Hugh does, would the accident rate fall to zero?
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident

Agree (7) | Disagree (0)

In answer to your question what we are looking for in on-road behaviours is the adoption of an Adult state. This is not a flippant answer, I’m using the term in the Transactional Analysis sense, and it’s a more general state than any specific observed personality trait. The point has, I think, been made that human personality is multi-faceted and we display different aspects of ourselves in different circumstances responding to different stimuli. In a general sense then what we would like to see is people interacting with one-another on the highway (indeed with the highway itself) using their Adult (as distinct from Parent or Child) state. I would imagine, given your current endeavours, this is something with which you would, in fact, find favour. The Adult state is described as “principally concerned with transforming stimuli into pieces of information, and processing and filing that information on the basis of previous experience”. It is, therefore, where we learn and where we can expect our current actions to be informed by that learning. It is the rational, processing part of us which we need to help us problem solve and ensure we are informed by what we know – rather, perhaps, than guided by how we feel.

Dave: totally agree. Oddly it’s finding that happy marriage between ‘simple’ and ‘scientific’ that created problems previously. But all problems are there to be overcome and I’d love to see us nail this one.

Idris: “Anyone proposing that psychologists should be allowed to determine who holds a driving licence needs his head examined.” We don’t just propose it we do it, and have been for some years. You’re not seriously suggesting we ditch the Hazard Perception Test are you?
Jeremy, Devon

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An excellent description of Berne's Transactional Analysis Jeremy.

TA is indeed one of the central pieces of understanding that it is the interactions between the elements or parts of a system that give the system its properties, yet always the efforts are taken on fixing the elements or parts rather than fixing the interactions. The behaviourists ignore TA and systems thinking in general and try and fix the people (parts) without the slightest understanding of how various behaviours are the results of interactions not the cause of them. I suppose it's this input/output confusion that is at the heart of many of the failed attempts to improve the safety of the system as it's really difficult to grasp the idea that cause and effect is not linear, but circular and recursive.

A good example of the complete misapplication of TA and systems thinking can be found with the Hazard Perception Test which completely ignores interactions and how they might fail. It concentrates instead on interactions that have not failed (nobody crashes in the HPT) which gives the student entirely the wrong understanding of the interaction process.

There is much to be gained from a proper understanding of TA and systems thinking and much to be lost from misunderstanding it.
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident

Agree (6) | Disagree (1)

"The behaviourists ignore TA and systems thinking in general and try and fix the people (parts) without the slightest understanding of how various behaviours are the results of interactions not the cause of them". When the offender rehab programmes began - I seem to recall this was over 20 years ago in a county not terribly far away and gosh, where is it now - TA was used as a cornerstone of the intervention technique. Hardly ignored I think.

As for your critique of the HPT - there's a reason it comes paired with some practical work. And the HPT was, as I’m sure you’ll recall, ultimately an outcome of research undertaken by Frank McKennna et al at Reading into the relationship between hazard awareness and driver risk and the capacity to make hazard awareness a trainable skill. I think you’ll be aware of this because you quote Prof McKenna on your own website in support of your own arguments.
Jeremy, Devon

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Judging by the comments regularly appearing on this forum, a lot of the contributors would seem to be of the personality type described in the article as: Teacher; Know-it-all; Competitor and Punisher.

ps thanks for the earlier compliment Duncan - you're probably right, (mind you, my personality could be leading me to say that tongue-in-cheek).
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (7) | Disagree (2)

Dr McKenna's research on the fundamentals of the HPT was indeed of the most excellent quality, but it is with the final form of the HPT that we take exception. The original research amply demonstrated the importance of the anticipation of potentially hazardous situations by learner drivers. However in the final version of HPT it is not the detection of the potential for a hazard that is being trained/tested for, but on actual hazards that have already developed. The HPT as it stands demands a reactive response and yet the skill that DR McKenna says needs to be enhanced is the proactive response.

I also queried why TA and systems thinking is being ignored because of the continuing reliance on finding fault with and apportioning blame to the people (parts) in the system. TA and systems thinking tells us that if there is any fault and blame to be found it will be with the interactions between those people and not the individuals themselves.
Duncan MacKillop, No surprise - No accident.

Agree (5) | Disagree (6)

If I had to pigeon hole myself I'd be part philosopher, part avoider, but have been all the above over the last fifty odd years at different times.

Analytic psycho babble might be fine for the scientifically oriented to satisfy their levels of academia, but seldom connects to the real world. It's much simpler than any of that, and based on ego, and much like weather forecasting - variable, and often wrong.

Were we all to drive safely there would still be accidents, because however hard we try human beings make mistakes. Stop humans driving, and you might as well stop them walking.
Derek Reynolds, Salop.

Agree (5) | Disagree (3)

I've posted a comment on the current TISPOL anti-speed campaign news item, which also has relevance to this news item as it refers to the psychological aspects of driver behaviour.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (1) | Disagree (2)

As a driver of a very high performance car (0 to 60 in 3s) it amuses me to see the behaviour of other drivers alter; some male drivers exhibit intense competition just at the sight of my vehicle.
Simon, London

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I must admit it amuses me as well when I see a high-performance car being driven on ordinary roads.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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