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Two concept Papers:
Instituting a Program of Lifelong Traffic Safety Training
Promoting the Spread of Quality Driving Circles (QDC) for
Post-Licensing Driver Self-improvement Programs

Dr. Leon James
Dr. Diane Nahl

Note: This concept paper was submitted in April 2006 in response to the announcement:

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is planning to publish a compendium of papers on the topic of "safety culture" as it pertains to traffic safety, with the primary aim being to describe--and ultimately improve--the safety culture in the United States.  Traffic Safety Culture: What is it and how do we improve it?

The proposal was not accepted. However we believe that traffic safety experts, officials, legislators, and parents need to consider this proposal for implementation on a national level for lifelong driver training. This would eliminate most of the current cost our society is paying:


42,000 per year or almost half a million every decade (more than we loose soldiers in war)

Hospitalization injuries

6.5 million per year, or 65 million every decade (these can affect your health for years)

Financial cost

more than 200 billion per year or 2 trillion every ten years (and rising every year)

Emotional and moral cost

almost every motorist driving around with seething rage most of the time causing stress and hostility among each other, dividing citizens against each other, promoting a culture of rage, allowing the back seat of the car to be the nation's road rage nursery


First Concept paper

Instituting a Program of

Lifelong Traffic Safety Training

Probably every one involved in traffic safety would agree that driver training is a key factor in significantly reducing crashes between vehicles and battles between drivers. Those involved in driver training are aware of the complexity of skills that must be acquired in order to become a habitually safe driver. Our research in driving psychology has allowed us to identify hundreds of skills that drivers need in order to drive safely as a habit and attitude.

We have discovered that all of the skills needed by a safe driver fall into three groupings having to do with human biology. We call this the threefold self of the driver. When we drive, all three of our biological systems are engaged and functioning.

First, the affective self of the driver operates the person's motivation, goal-intentions, and emotions or feelings. This affective self is already socially and culturally well developed by the time adolescents get their driver’s license training and permit.

The affective self of safe drivers involves these affective driving skills:

(a) Having a clear purpose while driving, making progress towards a destination

(b) Maintaining a persistent motivation to avoid risks and inhibit spontaneous impulses

(c) Elevating in one’s mind the value of safety rules and maintaining respect for them

(d) Allowing one’s consideration and compassion for people to extend to drivers and other road users

(e) Accepting the necessity of road etiquette in civilized societies

(f) Learning to value the rights of others in public places such as roadways

(g) Etc.

Second, the cognitive self of the driver operates the person's thinking, interpreting, assessing, judging, and predicting. A driver’s thinking and reasoning procedures need to be trained in order to properly interpret road events. This is universally recognized in driver education and courses generally try to teach cognitive or mental procedures that we need for making decisions behind the wheel. The cognitive self of safe drivers involves these cognitive driving skills:

(a) Understanding the real dangers of all road use

(b) Realizing that self-improvement as a driver contributes to speeding up traffic for everyone

(c) Understanding the real function of road regulations and laws and how disregarding them endangers society

(d) Understanding that driving involves the threefold self and the need to learn skills in each domain

(e) Understanding how drugs and alcohol impair the functioning of the driver’s threefold self

(f) Understanding how negative emotions impair the driver’s judgment and vehicle control

(g) Realizing that multi-tasking in vehicles requires new skills to be acquired by preparation and systematic self-training procedures

(h) Knowing facts such as statistics and costs of traffic accidents

(i) Etc.

Third, the sensorimotor self of the driver involves noticing what’s happening on the road and maneuvering the vehicle. A driver’s sensorimotor procedures must be trained, as is well known, and this constitutes the major portion of driver education in general. Driving a training car with the instructor and operating driving simulators in classrooms are the usual methods used to impart sensorimotor driving skills, including:

(a) Effective habits of scanning the road ahead and the mirrors

(b) Frequently looking at the speedometer

(c) Saving on fuel by minimizing use of the gas pedal

(d) Automatically maintaining sufficient distance from the vehicles ahead and behind in various traffic situations

(e) Avoiding causing backward traveling traffic waves or slow downs by driving too close, weaving or by lane hopping

(f) Maintaining steady speed and predictable changes in motion

(g) Using turn signals in proper sequence and timing

(h) Merging properly

(i) Etc.

This paper will develop the argument that the traffic safety profession needs to promote and investigate the idea of lifelong driver training. An outline will be presented broadly describing the curriculum components of a lifelong driver training program involving the following plan:

(1) Elementary School: Age appropriate content for training the affective self of public road users, including children as bicycle drivers, automobile passengers and pedestrians

(2) Middle School: Age appropriate content for training the cognitive self of public road users

(3) High School: Training of the sensorimotor self with simulators and student cars

(4) Graduated Licensing (varies in different localities)

(5) Post Licensing: Regular participation in Quality Driving Circles or other approved forms of driver self-improvement efforts (proof needed to obtain licensing renewal)


Second Concept Paper

Promoting the Spread of Quality Driving Circles (QDC)

for Post-Licensing Driver Self-improvement Programs

Truly safe driving involves hundreds of skills that are developed over the course of many years. These skills fall in three categories that match the driverŐs threefold self: affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor. Affective skills as a safe road user involve practicing mental habits of caring for others by maintaining feelings of responsibility for the welfare and rights of others. Cognitive skills as a safe road user involve knowledge of safety principles on roads, and the mental ability to analyze road situations and determine what actions are appropriate to maintain safety. Sensorimotor skills as a safe road user involve building habits of scanning the relevant environment and controlling the vehicle in dynamic or rapidly changing road situations.

Each of these three biological categories of skills need to be continuously developed and improved throughout the decades of the post-licensing phase. Acquiring new driver skills must continue to be part of a licensed driverŐs role and duty. To continue to be properly licensed, drivers need to demonstrate that they have participated in some systematic or approved driver self-improvement effort. Both the increasing density of traffic and the variety of in-car technologies require that drivers learn new skills to handle these new conditions and demands.

It is important to make available to the public packets of self-instructional material that people can use to carry out these self-instructional efforts. These driver self-instructional packets should be accessible through various suitable distribution methods. Research in the field needs to address how these packets can objectively form the basis of government licensing renewal procedures.

A powerful socio-cultural method for encouraging this new culture of safety is the support group, which is known in various areas of life changing efforts such as recovering from addiction, maintaining weight loss, or controlling oneŐs anger. For the past few years we have been proposing the creation of support groups for drivers and have referred to them as QDCs  (Quality Driving Circles). These are informal but regular meetings in which three to ten individuals discuss each otherŐs ongoing self-improvement efforts, using the approved lifelong driver self-improvement packets. QDCs can be based on family, neighborhood, club, workplace, etc. Even Ňvirtual QDCsÓ are possible through online chat rooms dedicated to systematic driver self-improvement efforts. After all if the web is good enough to renew your driver's license, update your address and receive online degrees, than obtaining information to be a better driver online should be attainable as well.

Research in the field needs to investigate the best content for these approved instructional packets. Our long experience in teaching driving psychology has allowed us to identify many of the key elements of such a lifelong driver self-improvement program suitable for self and group contexts. Packets would include examples of individual modules that deal with the skills to be practiced and acquired. Each instructional topic needs to be developed as a sequence of more advanced sub-unit skills within that topic. As drivers work through the sequenced sub-units, they acquire new safety habits in their threefold self.

All programs for promoting a culture of traffic safety need to address the threefold self of every driver. These three biological modes of a driverŐs functioning always act together to determine how people drive their cars or how they conduct themselves in public places as pedestrians. The culture of traffic safety rests simultaneously on peopleŐs feelings, thoughts, and actions. The habitually safe driver becomes that by acquiring skills in each of these three areas of functioning.

People need to be taught techniques for modifying their driving emotions from aggressive to supportive (affective self), their driving judgments from self-serving to objective (cognitive self), and their driving actions from risky to safe (sensorimotor).

The following are examples for each type of skill of the possible content of instructional packets for drivers.

(1) Monitoring My Traffic Emotions [Affective Skills]

(2) Modifying My Traffic Emotions [Affective Skills]

(3) Monitoring My Driving Mistakes [Sensorimotor Skills]

(4) Examining My Assumptions About Other Drivers [Cognitive Skills]

(5) Training Myself to Use Gadgets in the Car [Sensorimotor Skills]

Identifying all the activities I do in the car, when, and for how long. Assessing my ability to use each device in the car and without taking the eyes off the road. Practicing before starting the engine. Asking a passenger to make observations on your performance. Finding out what the law is in your area. Finding out what assistive technological devices are available for greater safety and less risk. Keeping a journal, diary, log or long term notes on your multi-tasking while driving. Discussing it with others.

(6) Practicing the Costanza Technique Behind the Wheel [Cognitive Skills]

The Button Myth (“It’s their fault if they push my buttons, they deserve what they get”). The Awareness Gap (“I’m not an aggressive driver, but everyone else is”). The Definition Gap (“Changing lanes without signaling is not aggressive”). When you are feeling negative, acting and thinking the opposite of how you feel (like George Costanza on one episode of Seinfeld). Learning to enjoy being nice to other drivers, pedestrians, and passengers. Discussing it with others.

(7) Dismantling the Back Seat Road Rage Nursery [Sensorimotor Skills]

Real life driver training begins in infancy while being driven by parents and others. Children listen to what you say and are aware of what you mutter behind the wheel. How children strapped in the seat become physiologically conditioned to fast driving, turning, and stopping, as well as abusive language and negative emotions directed at other drivers, then children automatically imitate these when they begin driving. How we can stop training the next generation of aggressive drivers. How to stop the cultural and generational cycle of risk acceptance. Activities with children in the car. Discussing driving philosophy and road etiquette with children in the car. Exercises for children in the car. Discussing it with others.

Related articlesLifelong Driver Education   ||    Dealing with stress and pressure in the vehicle. Taxonomy of Driving Behavior: Affective, Cognitive, Sensorimotor   ||   Driving Psychology   ||   Road Rage   ||  

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