Lessons learned from accident and near-accident experiences in traffic
The focus of this article is risky behavior in traffic. What do people learn from accidents and near-accidents? Experience with accidents may demand increased caution. However, near-accidents are inherently ambiguous: On the one hand, they signal that margins were good enough, inspiring increased risk-taking; on the other hand, they signal danger that could induce increased caution. To explore these issues, participants (N = 614) answered 47 questions related to safe traffic behavior as well as reported on their experiences with traffic accidents and near-accidents, assessing changes in cautiousness as well as cognitive (i.e., counterfactual thinking) and emotional mechanisms possibly involved in learning from such experience. Results indicate that people do not become more cautious after accidents, whereas repeated experiences with near-accidents seem to foster less cautious traffic behavior. We discuss emotional and cognitive mechanisms related to these effects, and suggest that cautiousness after near-accidents is associated with assuming personal responsibility and upward counterfactual comparisons. We conclude that the mechanisms involved in learning from near-accidents are theoretically interesting, as well as important for the understanding of safe driving behavior.