Ice and Snow, Take it Slow

We may have all at some point had to drive in dangerous weather conditions. Of course your parents, colleagues, and friends tell you “Be careful! The roads aren’t safe today,” so you can be extra aware of your surroundings when driving then you are on a normal day. But do we really change our driving when it’s snowing, raining, sleeting, or icy outside? Do we even have the skills to drive in such conditions?

According to the  Ethan Zell of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Zlatan Krizan of Iowa State University, people have a tendency to overestimate their skills. They wrote an article in the Perspectives on Psychological Science about this phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, where we’re more likely to overestimate how good we are at a task when we’re not very skilled at it. Of course this doesn’t just have to be related to driving, but it’s more problematic that we are unaware of our ability to drive in winter conditions. Our overconfidence in our driving abilities can lead to damaging or fatal car crashes where on a normal day could have just been a fender bender.

Another link to why we cognitively think we are better drivers in the snow and rain than we actually are because of misleading memories. Zell and Krizan said “people are far more accurate about assessing their skills when they receive accurate feedback, but drivers rarely receive any formal or official feedback about their driving.” Therefore, they rely on their memories of past experiences when driving which may be biased by memory decay and the desire to remember one’s performances positively.misleading memory againmisleading memory

This Dunning-Kruger effect can also be linked to statistical car accidents. Forbes did can article on the “Most Dangerous Times to Drive” and one of the in depth topics was about driving in dangerous weather conditions. Researchers at Berkeley  found that fatal crashes were 14% more likely to happen on the first snowy day of the season compared with later ones. Makes sense right? We think we are skilled drivers so we drive on the first snow day thinking “I can do this no problem.” Then we get in an accident because we are overconfident and overestimated our driving skills.

So next time you think you’re an excellent driving and you can just drive normally in the snow, ice, and rain, rethink that because you probably aren’t as skilled as you think you are. If you really have to drive in such conditions, take it slow, be aware of your surroundings, and remember your driving skills are most likely not good enough to drive in dangerous weather conditions.

3 thoughts on “Ice and Snow, Take it Slow

  1. bflood7174

    I find this interesting. I completely agree with it that people seem to think they’re invincible in bad driving conditions, but I personally show the opposite thought process. Today was actually the first day I’ve driven my car since our snow day a week ago! I feel like I’m a good driver, true, but I didn’t want to try driving in the snow. I’ve also noticed that whenever I’m driving in the rain or at night, I automatically go at least 10mph slower than I normally drive. In these cases I’m not intentionally driving slower, I just recognize it when I check my speed every now and then. It makes me wonder if I’m subconsciously driving more carefully because of the unsafe conditions, or if there’s some other reasoning behind it.

  2. aestero

    This was a very interesting read. With the snow day today, this was also very relevant. I agree with the article that we do tend to overestimate how well we are at a certain task that we are not very good at. I, myself, can think of times where this has happened to me. I do think that this happens more frequently when the weather conditions are not as good as they should be. I think people assume that they are invincible and can handle driving in the snow with no problems, then realize as soon as they start driving, they realize that driving in the snow is not easy at all. We really should be more aware of this tendency we have to overestimate how well we drive in snowy conditions, because if we go out there thinking we can do it all, we could really end up in a horrible accident due to the snow conditions.

  3. cleaman

    I think this is a really important topic to address. I know I certainly remember getting my license and feeling way too confident about my driving skills. I felt so cool to be speeding down the road with my windows down and radio blasting, but I realize now that I put myself and others in a very dangerous situation.
    I alluded to the same general concept at the end of my own blog post. I was writing about change blindness and how it applied to driving. We are all susceptible to change blindness and it can be very hard to notice things if we are not specifically paying attention to it. I mentioned that driving can become such an natural and mindless task for us, that we forget how serious it actually is. Especially in the wintertime when the roads are slippery and the sun glares off of the snow, it is extremely important to be one hundred percent attentive while driving a car. You never know when another car is going to slip on some ice and slide into your lane or when a patch of practically invisible black ice will show up on the road. The overconfidence that you wrote about while driving definitely reinforces the horribly wrong idea that driving does not require attention. It’s sad to think that so many crashes and fatal accidents could be avoided if people were more attentive and more realistic in their ability to drive a car. It’s possible for even the best of drivers to get into accidents. Not only does the overconfidence of a driver potentially affect himself or herself in an accident, it puts in danger the lives in another car.

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