The Psychology Behind Driving

Published on
April 25, 2024

A few decades ago, whenever the term ‘psychology’ was heard, it was often associated with mental illness and disorders. However, psychology as a term has a much wider spectrum of definitions. When we talk about psychology, we may refer to the academic discipline or the mental makeup and thought process behind a certain activity/behavior. 

When we are driving, it is not simply a physical activity of maneuvering the vehicle across different roads. It also encompasses a complex interplay of psychological factors and behaviors.

In today’s blog, we will delve into this fascinating aspect of the psychology behind driving.

Where does psychology come in?

Driving will be rendered impossible without our mind and wherever our mind comes in, psychology is an automatic plus-one. Because different individuals with unique personalities drive, it is important to understand the psychology of driving in order to properly understand road behavior. 

  • The first and foremost aspect to take into consideration is the emotion the driver is feeling when behind the wheel. If s/he is angry, stressed, anxious, and/or frustrated, it will unconsciously negatively affect their driving behavior. Negative emotions will lead to reckless and rash driving with a tendency to make risky decisions.

  • If a driver’s mind is distracted, the chances of them reacting promptly to road hazards or any other external stimuli decrease. With reduced reaction time, the probability of road crashes witnesses a boost. 

  • As a driver, it is important to understand our own state of mind and to remain calm while also acknowledging the different types of drivers on the road.

  • Individual differences, past experiences, and memory capacity also influence an individual’s driving behavior and can positively or negatively tilt their driving pattern.

  • Our social dynamics also unknowingly seep into our driving behavior. Continuous exposure to peers who engage in rash or harsh driving can inadvertently motivate individuals to emulate such unsafe behaviors.

Different Types of Driving Styles

To increase road safety and lower accident rates, it is essential to comprehend how emotions and psychological variables affect driving behavior and subsequently birth different driving styles. This understanding assists drivers in anticipating unpredictable actions and responding properly. Furthermore, acknowledging these elements promotes empathy and a more thoughtful and careful driving style, which eventually makes for a safer and more peaceful driving environment for everybody.

There are several types of driving styles, depending on the emotional state of the driver and other psychological factors affecting them -

Angry Driving Style

An angry driving style is marked by frequent displays of road rage, irritation, and hostile behaviors towards other drivers, such as cursing, honking, and flashing lights. These behaviors often stem from external factors like traffic congestion or personal frustrations, including anger issues or a generally irritable temperament. Angry driving poses risks to road safety and can harm one's psychological well-being. When anger arises, it's advised to breathe slowly, focus on calming thoughts or soothing music, and seek professional help if anger is a persistent issue.

Reckless and Careless Driving Style

A reckless driving style is characterized by speeding, thrill-seeking behavior, and deliberate disregard for driving norms, necessitating heightened caution. Those who embrace this style often exhibit fearlessness, enjoy risk, and the adrenaline rush that comes from breaking laws, which can spill over into other areas of their lives. Such drivers may prioritize excitement over safety, endangering themselves and others on the road. This disregard for rules not only poses immediate risks but can also lead to legal consequences and long-term consequences for personal well-being.

Anxious Driving Style

This driving style isn't primarily influenced by age but rather by years of driving experience. For instance, people with limited driving exposure are more likely to adopt this style. It's unclear whether this limited exposure leads to an anxious driving style or if those inclined towards anxiety simply drive less. This style can be hazardous as the driver lacks confidence, often misjudging distances and speeds of other vehicles, resulting in very slow driving. Such drivers perceive driving as a stressful and tense activity, posing a threat to their safety regardless of the driving scenario.

Careful Driving Style

The careful driving style is defined by a thoughtful approach towards others on the road, a reduced inclination for thrill-seeking, and a strong emphasis on cautiousness. Individuals who embrace this style often exhibit agreeable and warm traits, along with conscientiousness, sensitivity, and effective coping mechanisms for anxiety. Typically, this style is preferred by individuals who do not excessively pursue excitement or thrills, resulting in composed and assured driving behavior.

Common Psychological Challenges on the Road

Risk Perception 

Risk Perception is defined as a driver’s subjective evaluation of potential road safety hazards and the subsequent assessment of their severity and probability. It also underscores the cognitive ability of the driver to prevent such hazards from causing actual road accidents. 

While on the road, it is imperative to understand that different people perceive risks differently, and this drastically colors their driving behavior. Practicing defensive driving is the best move in such situations wherein the driver is trained to anticipate hazards and drive cautiously under the assumption that other drivers are likely to commit mistakes. 

Cognitive Bias

Cognitive biases often tend to rear their heads and impact decision-making while driving. Cognitive biases may include overconfidence in one’s driving skills or an illusion of control. 

Other types of biases could be anchoring bias, in which drivers make poor decisions by relying too much on initial information or cues, or confirmation bias, in which drivers look for information that supports their preexisting beliefs or expectations while disregarding contradicting evidence. 


Distractions while driving can be dangerously deceptive. Our minds find it difficult to focus on several things at once, even if we think we can multitask. It is important to keep critical emphasis off the road when focusing on chores like texting, altering settings, or having conversations. 

This cognitive overload highlights the need for complete focus when driving because it can cause delayed reflexes, poor decision-making, and an increased risk of accidents.

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