Thursday, August 2, 2007

Race car drivers: More skilled, fewer crashes on public roads?

The enthusiasts' call is unceasing, "If only we made driver licensing more stringent or trained drivers more thoroughly, we'd have fewer crashes." Well, I dug into some "archives" and unearthed an interesting study that relates directly to this issue. In the early 1970s the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) sought to compare the driving records of the general public with “national competition license” race drivers certified by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). The SCCA consented to participate because it was sure of the outcome: the “trained” drivers would certainly have superior records.

Surprise! Not only did the SCCA members have more traffic violations (well, not really a surprise), they had proportionately more crashes than the control group of drivers. This was true even when mileage driven by each group was taken into account.

Needless to say, the SCCA never again agreed to participate in further such studies. I’ll say it again: in driving, attitude trumps knowledge (that is, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't force him to drink). And of course, you have the overconfidence factor — the SUVs in the ditch scenario in that first winter snowstorm — but this too is part of attitude.

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