You’ve probably seen those large electronic billboards telling you how many people died during the last year in crashes in the state or on the particular road you are on at the time. They aim to make you think about whether you are driving safely enough to avoid increasing those statistics.
Yet a recent study in Texas suggests things have not played out as planned. Researchers found that the signs led to a 4.5% increase in crashes in the 10 kilometers after the warnings.
Is it possible to worry too much?
One theory the researchers came up with to explain this is that the signs made people worry too much. Increasing anxiety levels in drivers led them to make mistakes they would not make if they were more relaxed. Some of those errors led to crashes.
Why is this? Well, when you are anxious about something, you spend a lot of brainpower thinking about what could go wrong. It is true whether you are anxious about an exam, a presentation or driving. There is an element of getting what you focus on.
Professional basketball players learn to visualize the ball dropping through the hoop, so it usually does. Amateurs are more likely to think about the consequences of missing. Hence they often do. Thinking about crashing may increase the chance you crash.
You only have a limited amount of attention, and when driving, you need to focus it on the road. Anything that makes you think of other things, such as the injuries you could suffer in a crash, reduces your ability to make intelligent driving decisions that could help you avoid a collision caused by a negligent driver.