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What type of drivers are most at risk of accidents?

People who drive at work

People who drive at work are more likely to have an accident than people that don’t. There are a number of factors that contribute to the risk:

  • Driving for work means you are on the road more – increased exposure usually means increased risk.
  • When driving for work, there are distractions such as thinking about the meeting you’re going to, talking on the phone, etc – a list of distractions and how much they increase the risk of accidents is listed below
  • People that drive for work often have to be familiar with more than one vehicle unless they use their work vehicle for all travel, including to and from home. Unfamiliarity with the width and length of the vehicle can lead to minor scrapes when parking. If there are changes that cause cognitive load, such as the indicator stalk being on the opposite side, they can add up to making the driving experience slightly more challenging. If the performance of the vehicle is different then it can lead to either over-driving the vehicle (e.g. taking corners too quickly), or misjudging overtaking performance.

People who manage time poorly

People who have poor time management skills tend to rush around more and this increases their chances of having an accident. They struggle to think about the structure of their time and are less likely to set the satellite navigation before they set off, for example.

Younger drivers

anti-lock brake (ABS) warning lightDrivers aged 16-24 make up around one-third of all crashes. The main cause is lack of experience. It is exacerbated by young drivers generally having vehicles which are less capable on the road (i.e. less safety features such as ABS and ESC), and less likely to protect in an accident because they are older and/or smaller vehicles.

Young drivers also tend to over-estimate their skills, have a greater desire to meet the time expectations of their employer, use seat belts less consistently and are more likely to be distracted.

With the new graduated driver licence system plus safe systems such as anti-lock brakes trickling down into cheap secondhand cars, the fatality rate for 15-19-year-olds dropped 82% between 1985 and 2012.

Personal psychology

Drivers that regularly feel sad, angry or agitated behind the wheel increase their risk up to ten times according to research from Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study of 3500 drivers.

Psychologists have been trying to determine what personality types contribute to increased accident risks.

Certain personality types seek more risk, and will drive faster. However, studies found that this didn’t necessarily increase the risk. In some cases, the drivers simply became more skilled at driving more quickly, and drove “relatively safely” when driving quickly.

Optimists tend to be at slightly greater risk as they are more likely to misjudge the amount of time it will take to make a journey, often leaving too little time.

How you apportion blame is one of the main risks factors. People usually either blame everyone (or everything) else for their situations and what happens to them, or they take responsibility objectively for factors that are within their control, blaming themselves for some or all of what happens. Drivers that blame others tend not to learn from their mistakes and also take a more fatalistic approach to driving, while drivers that blame themselves tend to be much more aware of risks and drive more cautiously.

Smoking is a distraction which increases the risk of having an accident

Smoking is a distraction which increases the risk of having an accident

Your time orientation affects risk. You can either be past, present or future orientated. If you are past orientated you reminisce and think about the past and their memories frequently). Future orientated people spend time worrying about what will happen and tend to make lists, having savings and think about their retirement. Present orientated people tend to be more hedonistic, living for the moment. Present orientated people are much more at risk of accidents. More men than women are present orientated and this could partially explain why men are over-represented in vehicle crash statistics.

The Virginia Tech study calculated risks for different types of distractions:

  • Drug/alcohol use: 35.9x
  • Mobile phone dialling: 12.2x
  • Reading/writing: 9.9x
  • Anger, sadness or crying: 9.8x
  • Reaching for an object: 9.1x
  • Extended glance: 7.1x
  • Texting: 6.1x
  • Reaching for mobile: 4.8x
  • Using sat nav: 4.6x
  • Drowsiness/fatigue: 3.4x
  • Adjusting the air con or heating: 2.3x
  • Talking on mobile: 2.2x
  • Changing radio: 1.9x
  • Eating: 1.8x

How many of these do you do, or do your family or employees do?

mobile phone use while driving

Dialling a mobile phone while driving increases your risk of an accident by over 12 times.

Awareness and empathy

It’s frequently said by motorcycle riders that they became much more careful drivers once they started to ride a motorbike as they were acutely aware of the dangers to them. Awareness and empathy of other road users can therefore improve a driver’s reactions and responses to certain situations on the road.

How to reduce the risk

  • Good route planning processes must be put in place to avoid hold-ups that cause stress and resultant risk-taking to try to make up time.
  • Meetings should be scheduled so that travel time is realistic.
  • Young drivers should receive particular attention from fleet owners. Training courses to improve risk awareness and defensive driving skills are important.
  • It’s important to purchase or lease a vehicle which has as many safety features as possible, particularly electronic stability control.
  • Don’t drive if it’s not necessary; use video conferencing if possible, or take public transport.
  • Encourage drivers to avoid the distractions above (turn off mobile phones, set the sat nav and radio before they set off, don’t eat behind the wheel, ensure they are rested and alert).
  • Look into psychological testing to spot drivers that may be at slightly more risk.


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Darren has written over 3000 articles about driving and vehicles, plus almost 500 vehicle reviews and numerous driving courses. Connect with him on LinkedIn by clicking the name above

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