Alpha drivers on UAE roads: Who breaks the rules, rules

Psychologist Taha Amir speaks on the rationale behind ‘rash driving’

"Tailgating, flashing lights to budge cars out of the way, changing lanes quickly and cutting off cars- is seen as ‘respected’ behaviour.

"Abiding by the speed limit, maintaining a clear distance behind cars in front, and putting on seatbelts are often considered unmanly or cowardly- or practices followed only by ‘unskilled drivers’", writes Taha Amir in the May 2012 issue of The UAE Psychologist.

Conducting a research into what constitutes a rash driver, Taha concluded that conformity is a very robust factor in the driving behaviour of young drivers in the UAE.

 "Certain beliefs, attitudes and values imposed by peer pressure or inspired by role models are widespread among young drivers in the UAE."

An interesting aspect in that concern is territoriality; the attempt by an individual or a group to affect influence, or control people, phenomena, and relationships, by delimiting and asserting control over a geographic area.

"In the context of traffic, territoriality may manifest itself in overtaking strangers to emphasise the person’s space ownership.

"The fact that 16 per cent stated that they would always, or most of the time overtake the car in front if the driver was very intriguing," says Taha.

Equally stunning is the role that the type of car can play. "Some of the young drivers seem to come under the stronger temptation to overtake if the car they are driving is fancier than the one in front. This is a simple expression of superiority and class."

Reckless driving is contagious, says Taha. "Sometimes responsible drivers who do not belong to the group have to go with the tide in order to find their way in the road. Sometimes it is ‘safer’ to infringe the rules; not because it is your choice, but because you are expected to do so otherwise you might put yourself in danger."

But also in the absence of direct incentive to conform to certain behaviour reckless driving can be 'passed on', according to a principle dubbed the 'land-mark experiment' (developed by Soloman Asch, 1951).

"His experiments have shown that people can even pass judgments based on simple physical characteristics of objects that go against what they see with their own eyes, because a group of strangers, with whom he/she has no previous relationship, made that judgment.

"That seems more bizarre than behaving in a certain way to conform to one’s own group."

Skilful drivers often feel that they are equipped with the capabilities of dealing with the consequences of their driving. Yet for every driver there is a point of cognitive overload, where the limitations of the human cognitive functions are met.

"When an individual makes a rash choice, such as speeding, tailgating, jumping the red traffic light etc. a situation is created where demands for safety go beyond the human cognitive and motor abilities. This results in cognitive overload.

"Car accidents occur because of the choices made and the resultant actions have overloaded the cognitive and motor capabilities of the driver," writes Taha.

Or, the demand for safety is stable but the cognitive abilities of the driver have been challenged by other factors, such as driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or certain medicines or when fatigued or sleepy.

"In both cases it is obvious that the human factor is at play and the choices made were possibly driven by peer pressure; by certain beliefs, attitudes.”

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