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Young drivers' optimism bias for accident risk and driving skill: Accountability and insight experience manipulations

  • White, Melanie
  • Cunningham, Lauren
  • Titchener, Kirsteen
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2011
Queensland University of Technology ePrints Archive


This study aimed to determine whether two brief, low cost interventions would reduce young drivers’ optimism bias for their driving skills and accident risk perceptions. This tendency for such drivers to perceive themselves as more skilful and less prone to driving accidents than their peers may lead to less engagement in precautionary driving behaviours and a greater engagement in more dangerous driving behaviour. 243 young drivers (aged 17 - 25 years) were randomly allocated to one of three groups: accountability, insight or control. All participants provided both overall and specific situation ratings of their driving skills and accident risk relative to a typical young driver. Prior to completing the questionnaire, those in the accountability condition were first advised that their driving skills and accident risk would be later assessed via a driving simulator. Those in the insight condition first underwent a difficult computer-based hazard perception task designed to provide participants with insight into their potential limitations when responding to hazards in difficult and unpredictable driving situations. Participants in the control condition completed only the questionnaire. Results showed that the accountability manipulation was effective in reducing optimism bias in terms of participants’ comparative ratings of their accident risk in specific situations, though only for less experienced drivers. In contrast, among more experienced males, participants in the insight condition showed greater optimism bias for overall accident risk than their counterparts in the accountability or control groups. There were no effects of the manipulations on drivers’ skills ratings. The differential effects of the two types of manipulations on optimism bias relating to one’s accident risk in different subgroups of the young driver sample highlight the importance of targeting interventions for different levels of experience. Accountability interventions may be beneficial for less experienced young drivers but the results suggest exercising caution with the use of insight type interventions, particularly hazard perception style tasks, for more experienced young drivers typically still in the provisional stage of graduated licensing systems.

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