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.
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.