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The Psychology of the Road

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Driving is not an easy task – distractions are a constant danger on the road.  To help businesses better understand and predict driver behavior, traffic psychologists study how people think behind the wheel.  This field combines many areas of study, including decision-making processes, spatial cognition and traffic pattern research, to create a body of principles. Businesses can use these traffic psychology principles to instill healthy practices throughout their fleets.

A central tenet of traffic psychology is the importance of habit.  Habit is an elemental part of daily life.  For example, most people can wake up in the morning and brush their teeth without thinking. That’s because this action has become a habit. Studies have shown that habits are generated by repeating behavior in a three-part loop – a cue, an action and a reward.  Repeating a habit enough times creates an automatic behavior.  Unfortunately, this means unsafe driving behaviors can also turn into habits if performed too often. Maneuvers such as speeding, improper lane change, and inattention can become mentally ingrained if they go unchecked for too long.

The deeper concern for fleet managers is why these maneuvers are performed so often. The root cause of many habit-forming unsafe driving maneuvers is inattention. An FMCSA-conducted study concluded that 71% of truck crashes happen when the driver is engaged in an activity outside of driving the vehicle.  These activities can include eating, talking on the phone, changing radio stations, and more.  When this distraction is compounded over the many hours truck drivers spend working, businesses are faced with a real danger. Vehicles driven by inattentive drivers risk federal audit, collision, and other road hazards

To combat inattentive, unsafe driving, drivers should educate themselves on the causes and signs of distraction. Taking appropriate breaks, maintaining a balanced diet and varying routines within the cab are all ways to avoid distraction. Businesses should also invest in fleet tracking software that monitors and reports unsafe behavior to identify drivers who may benefit from additional instruction. Taking these steps will help drivers stay safe and businesses stay federally compliant


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