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The psychology behind vehicle crashes: A student assignment

sue_frantz
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In the June 2022 edition of the APA Monitor on Psychology is an excellent article on the psychology of traffic safety. The article features David Strayer’s “four horsemen of death”: speed, impairment, fatigue, and distraction. Given the number and breadth of psychological concepts covered, this article provides fodder for a good end-of-term assignment. It may also save the lives of your students.

Note that the journalist uses the term “crash” rather than “accident.” “Crash” is the preferred term by U.S. government agencies, such as the CDC and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The word “accident” implies an incident that could not be avoided. The word “crash” does not carry that connotation. Giving the causes of traffic fatalities are due to driver decision-making, whether it be the driver of the vehicle or the driver of another vehicle, “crash” is a better descriptor than “accident.”  

Ask students to read the article “Improving Traffic Safety” (Pappas, 2022), and then answer the following questions.

How many people died on U.S. roadways in 2020?

Speed. What percentage of the 2020 traffic fatalities were estimated to be caused by excessive speed?

The article describes three ways that our environment can contribute to unsafe driving. Take a photo of a road in your area that illustrates one or more of these environmental hazards. Explain.

The article also describes three ways that our environment can contribute to safe driving. Take a photo of a road in your area that illustrates one or more of these environmental benefits. Explain.

In a survey of drivers at the beginning of the pandemic, researchers “saw an increase in respondents saying they were more likely to break the law because they knew they were less likely to be caught.” Explain this finding in terms of operant conditioning.

With fewer people on the roads during the pandemic shut-down, researchers speculate that street racing may have increased. What Ontario law led to a reduction in street racing? Explain this effect in terms of operant conditioning.

If you are primarily a driver, what can you do to reduce your chances of dying in a car crash due to speed? If you primarily a passenger, what can you do to reduce your chances of dying in a car crash due to speed?

Impairment. What percentage of the 2020 traffic fatalities were estimated to be caused by impaired driving?

Based on your reading of the article, describe the relationship between stress, alcohol, and driving while impaired.

What Big Five personality trait is associated with a history of driving while impaired and reckless driving? Given your knowledge of this trait, why might that association exist?

Fatigue. What percentage of the 2020 traffic fatalities were estimated to be caused by fatigue? Why might this number be an underestimation?

Summarize what you learned in this course about the effects of sleep deprivation. Choose five effects, and for each, briefly explain how it could negatively effect driving.  

According to the article, what have Australian highway authorities done to combat boredom on empty stretches of highway?

Distraction. What percentage of the 2020 traffic fatalities were estimated to be caused by distracted driving?

Explain how stress may contribute to distracted driving.

Explain how the design of cars may contribute to distracted driving. Give at least one example.

Conclusion. What was the most surprising thing you learned in this article? Explain.

Identify at least one concept you learned in this course that could apply to speed, impairment, fatigue, or distraction but was not discussed in the article. Briefly describe the concept, and then explain how it could be a contributor to car crashes.

 

Reference

Pappas, S. (2022, June). Improving traffic safety. Monitor on Psychology, 53(4), 46–55.

 

 

 

About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology in community colleges since 1992, and has been at Highline College in the Seattle area since 2001. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award . She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed.