My Life in Cars

by Dick Potter

Wed, 31 October 2018

I have had the pleasure of living in Bahrain for more years than I've lived in the UK. In fact, I now have the honour of holding a Bahraini passport. Aside from enjoying the consternation this creates at random immigration portals across the GCC, the other benefits this bestows on me are innumerable. In short, I immensely enjoy my newly bestowed citizenship as much as I enjoy living in Bahrain. However, despite my years of abode here, I still despair at the safety violations and increasing lack of courtesy to other drivers I witness on a regular basis on the roads. Just yesterday I was almost forced off the highway by a chap who lost control and swerved from the lane he was in while using a mobile phone.

My despair is perhaps compounded as younger generations join us on the roads. In my earlier days in Bahrain (quite a bit earlier I assure you!), mobile phones didn't exist. On the safety side, then, they just weren't an issue.

That changed in the ‘90s. A mass influx of brick-like communication devices flooded onto the scene, including the driving scene. In time, credit to the traffic boys, the use of a mobile phone whilst driving became a big no-no. In fairness, not everyone had one of these cumbersome devices back then. Furthermore, they weren't as versatile as they are today. Let's see: WhatsApp, FaceTime, emails (you get the message, right?). How many ways can you distract yourself whilst driving today? Yes, there are some law-abiding motorists out there who use Bluetooth, and newer car models have infotainment systems and so forth, which also mitigates the mobile phone issue to some extent.

Now, I do know that issues concerning road safety and courtesy to other drivers is not exactly breaking news. I know this because my wife said so. Furthermore, she didn’t think you, my (ahem) fans, would appreciate me dedicating an article to it. She thought it would be more useful if I provided some insight into why some drivers behave as they do – she’s quite clued up in the study of why people behave in various ways.

So, I thought I’d do a bit of research – OK, I asked her to explain further, same thing, right? She says that what makes phone conversations unsafe whilst driving isn't so much the act of holding the phone as being distracted by the conversation. That much I think I already knew. The lack of body language makes such conversations especially demanding, requiring us to commit more cognitive resources and further distracting us from the road. That, I admit, was news to me. My research revealed more. When someone bumps into us on the street, we usually react by apologising profusely. So, why don’t we behave similarly when driving? Often, discourtesies to us are met with instant anger – in extreme cases, road rage. 

This apparently happens because of what is known as the ‘Fundamental Attribution Error’. (Patience. I shall explain.) Apparently, we fail to account for situational reasons as to why other drivers seem to behave dangerously. Instead, we tend to attribute mistakes to their personality or ability (“moron”, “terrible driver”). However, we excuse our own road errors as situational ("that bit of road was really dangerous", "I had to drive that fast or I would have been late"). Interesting, huh? So, my fellow road users, next time you're behind the wheel and get annoyed, frustrated or other, ask yourself, am I guilty of the Fundamental Attribution Error here? Even more importantly, is the driver behind you guilty of it also?
Safe driving all.

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