Drivers’ behaviours cause ‘ripple effect’ on the road

12.00 | 7 December 2015 | | 8 comments

A new study has concluded that aggressive behaviour on the road by one driver causes others to behave in a similar fashion.

The study, released last week by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the tyre manufacturer Goodyear, found that drivers’ choices of behaviour on the road trigger what is described as a ‘ripple effect’.

In a survey of nearly 9,000 drivers from 15 European countries, 87% of those surveyed agreed that considerate driving by others can prompt them, in turn, to be considerate to other drivers.

Conversely, 55% admitted that when irritated or provoked on the road by one driver, they may be more likely to take it out on another.

The report suggests a ‘simple act of kindness or one of aggression can initiate a chain of events creating an environment that is either comfortable and safer, or stressful and more dangerous for drivers’.

Dr Chris Tennant, who led the research project on behalf of LSE, said: “Setting aside factors such as weather conditions or fatigue, the drivers around us provide an important context to which we respond as our journey unfolds.

“When negotiating road space with others, drivers frequently apply the logic of reciprocity. However, since many interactions are fleeting, the reciprocity is often indirect: our response is made to a different driver later on our journey – thus, the ripple effect on the road.”

When reviewing video scenes of interactions on the road, the majority of those surveyed confirmed the importance of gestures of thanks, with fewer than 10%, typically, denying the importance of such acknowledgements.

In interviews, drivers readily admitted that when one driver neglects to say thank you, they are more likely to drive assertively in the next interaction.

The study found a whole range of behaviours likely to antagonise others, from merging tactics at busy junctions to tailgating, and from poor signalling to motorway lane discipline.

Yet in interview, drivers acknowledged that they perform these same behaviours themselves, usually inadvertently, potentially initiating the ripple effect of negative interactions.

The report says while other road safety research has drawn attention to the challenge of identifying specific problem drivers who are prone to dangerous behaviour, this study demonstrates the need to recognise how other drivers’ behaviour can make anyone drive more dangerously – even if they would not otherwise be considered to be a problem driver.

Olivier Rousseau, Goodyear vice president, said: “The road is rarely seen as a social setting, particularly one wherein good manners should be used.

“In fact our road safety research shows that many drivers can see other cars on the road as anonymous machines, and not as vehicles containing another human being.

“We urge drivers to remember what strong effect their own behaviour has on the behaviour of others. Our study suggests that aggressive and combative driving behaviour by one driver can initiate a chain of reactions between other drivers and eventually cause a dangerous situation or even an accident some time later while the originator has already moved on.

“It is up to all of us to stop this ripple effect on the road.“



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    Actually,as a general rule, I think I would prefer academics and the like to use common sense rather than intelligence. Too many times I have seen the product of so called intelligent thinking when a small amount of common sense might have led to an even better answer.

    Nigel Albright
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    I don’t agree that common sense is wrong in this case. Yes there would be knee jerk reaction but when the dust has settled then its new use would be more appreciated by more. It becomes of greater value. There are in fact many roads such as 70 mph dual carriageways that don’t have the benefit of a hard shoulder and also some two lane motorways that do. Are the first example any worse of for not having them? If you look at the history of motorway building what use is the hard shoulder? Its use is that which others gave it in the 1960s. It’s under used and of little value as an empty space.

    Allow that space to be used and it gives what I want and that is more space to others. Releasing pressure and allowing a safer and more content journey in terms of time and space. With greater space comes a more relaxed drive. One that is less fraught with problems. We have to forget the old preconceptions of possible increased danger and the questions of what happens if?

    Bob Craven Lancs..Space is Safer Campaigner
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    It can be helpful to have research by academics confirm things we think we all know. Common sense” is sometimes wrong – how many people thought that removing the M-way hard shoulder would reduce collisions? And even when right, common sense can be dismissed as anecdotal or “unproven” without a research basis.

    This research lends support to TfL’s “Share the road” campaign

    It also reminds me of research into anti-social behaviour (by Sheffield University?). This found that society tended to characterise anti-social behaviour as physical acts (vandalism etc) yet the biggest number of anti-social acts (showing aggression, abusing others, selfish or threatening behaviour, and sometimes physical violence) arose from traffic conflicts.

    David Davies, London
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    Good comments, Bob. However, one might say, ‘What’s new?’. It does sometimes surprise me that these psychologists and academics come up with revelations the basis of which are already well known; i.e. it has been known for yonks (define!) that if you push against someone the natural tendency is for them to push back at you.

    Nigel Albright
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    I know of one thing that will make things easier and that is the giving and receiving of space. Space is extremely under estimated and under rated for its place in road safety. Often overlooked and on many incident reports and sidelined as merely a minor contributory factor.

    Bob Craven lancs…Space is Safe Campaigner
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    I would be even more cautious with Paul Biggs posting! Why are we drawing conclusions from Turkey & Russia who are not even in the EU, or more importantly considered in this report? As for the poor old Netherlands and Malta who, despite been one of the best road safety performers along with the UK & Sweden, are tarnished with the same brush.

    I suspect, but I do not know, that traffic enforcement may have a large part to play here after watching Belgium drivers over the weekend creating a very large splash by driving down the hard shoulder to avoid the traffic congestion. In my experience traffic enforcement promotes a comfortable driving environment.

    Gareth, Surrey
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    I think I would be cautious in drawing conclusions from Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Turkey, Slovenia, Spain, UK, Austria – some of those countries have lower driving and behavior standards which are manifested in a much poorer road safety record than the likes of the UK and Sweden.

    Paul Biggs, Tamworth
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    So it looks to me like a case of kids do as kids see, and drivers do as drivers see. I am heartened by the facts showing that when given a consideration it lifts a driver’s mood and that they are likely to reciprocate back, or at other times. Many times on my motorcycle I am given a consideration, be it someone who waits at a junction longer than necessary and doesn’t rush out ahead of me, or other actions that can cause me some concerns. I raise my left hand and many times they even acknowledge that back. I think it’s extremely important to acknowledge the slightest consideration as it encourages them or others to do the same and we become easier when driving and it lessens the stress and aggression that some drivers suffer.

    If one reads the Highway Code properly all this is outlined in it. It’s nothing new, the giving of an acknowledgement or of a courtesy is encouraged.

    Bob Craven Lancs…Space is Safer Campaigner
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