Optimism Bias & Why Drivers Judge Motorcycle Distance & Speed Poorly

motorcycle in traffic

One of the most common causes of motorcycle accidents is when cars turn left into the path of oncoming motorcycles. Motorists will misjudge the speed of oncoming traffic and make a left when they don’t have enough time or space. Meanwhile, motorcycle drivers can’t maneuver out of the way in time, and they end up suffering serious or fatal injuries.

Drivers in general are also more prone to distraction than motorcycle riders. Part of that is the mechanics of riding a motorcycle—most riders don’t try to text while steering one-handed—but part of it is a tendency for people to overestimate their own driven abilities. Psychologists call it the “mere-exposure” effect: when people do something often, they confuse frequent practice for skill. So, a bad driver who drives a lot is more likely to think they’re a good driver, failing to correct their risky driving behaviors.

The mere-exposure effect explains why a study of drivers found that most people are afraid of distracted drivers, but those same people admitted to texting while driving! People overestimate their own abilities when it comes to driving. That overestimation, what some scientists call “optimism bias,” has a measurable effect on traffic accidents.

Research Shows That Crash-Risk Optimism Leads to Hazardous Driving Behaviors

Psychologists have gauged a driver's crash-risk optimism before they even set foot in a car, this optimism being the term used to describe how they felt their chances of getting into an accident were compared to that of their peers. What researchers found was that whenever young drivers compared themselves to other drivers in their age group, they would always rate themselves as more skillful drivers than those around them. If they hadn't gotten into a crash in the past, they would exhibit a sense of "perceived luck" and of being a more cautious driver than they really were, which fed into the idea that this crash avoidance was due to their stronger ability as drivers.

Another study looked at these self-enhancement biases, and they again found that overrating one's driving skills and use of caution on the road correlated to the degree of one's crash-risk optimism. Interestingly, this study found that one's crash-risk optimism was further connected to how many driving violations that driver would commit. This overconfidence and false perception then seem to feed into the idea that one can get away with certain driving risks because they have gotten away with it before, instead of correcting these bad driving behaviors.

Drivers Also Get Overconfident with Experience

Additional research from Accident Analysis Prevention shows that people with more driving experience tended to underestimate their odds of being in various types of accidents compared to their peers. It also had drivers rate their optimism that they’d avoid accidents of certain kinds.

A strong predictor of optimism bias was how much each driver thought they’d be able to control the outcome of an accident through their driving skill. The more experienced a driver was, the more they believed that driving skill was the decisive factor in an accident’s outcome. These people also had an overly high opinion of their own driving skills. This overconfidence then translated to drivers not taking potential hazards seriously, which in turn led to behaviors, such as slow reaction times, that created accidents.

In more recent research with driving simulations, studies found that being overly optimistic about how strong one's driving skills are would lead to a late reaction time to hazards on the road, a failure "to perceive risk situations" until it was too late. One's experience as a driver doesn't necessarily translate to better driving skill, but it can simply mean one enjoyed a long streak of avoiding a crash. These tested drivers were found to mistakenly attribute this avoidance to their own skill, boosting their false confidence.

In one study, young drivers could safely downplay their optimism bias when they were informed, through taking a perception test, that their overconfidence led to worse response times in hazardous situations. This could make them self-aware enough to respond better to risks on the road, but only if they weren't experienced. Drivers with more experience still require a different sort of intervention in order to correct their dangerous levels of optimism bias.

Motorcyclists Correcting Their Own Optimism Bias Can Only Do So Much

According to articles in Accident Analysis Prevention, it is optimism bias that contributes to so many traffic accidents. Since car drivers are often the cause behind accidents with motorcycles, optimism bias then is a key cause of many motorcycle crashes.

Motorcyclists themselves can improve matters in some cases by examining their own crash-risk optimism, so as to be quicker at identifying risks and then choosing not to run that risk.

However, while your own driving decisions do determine whether accidents take place, it is not the only factor. Factors outside your control still lead to crashes, and at that point, there's very little that drivers, especially motorcyclists, can do to prevent injury or control what happens to them. Good driving is preventative, but as our firm knows, people are severely injured in accidents due to no fault of their own all the time. Peace of mind isn’t found in our own driving skill, but in knowing that if we’re injured by someone’s negligence, we’ll have the means to recover our losses.

If you were injured in a car accident chiefly caused by someone else, then speak with our firm. We may be able to secure the financial recovery and peace of mind you need. Call (888) 498-3023 today.

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