Look in the mirror to see where road to better driving habits starts

Insights West had the opportunity to ask drivers in British Columbia about what they see and do on the road as part of a comprehensive research project commissioned by the Insurance Corp. of British Columbia (ICBC). Some of the results of the survey puzzled us, while others were not entirely surprising.

This was not my first experience trying to figure out the intricacies of driving in our province. In January 2016, Insights West asked Canadians about certain misdeeds that they might have witnessed while on the road. British Columbia was at or near the top of the list of offenders in most categories, with 61% saying they saw a driver who did not stop at an intersection when it was required (the Canadian average was 49%) and a massive 84% saying someone turned without signalling (the Canadian average was 78%).

The Canada-wide research project was related to perceptions. ICBC was interested in reality, and with the proper level of impartiality that online research can provide, we asked B.C.’s drivers not only about the things they hate to see on the road, but also about the ones they partake in themselves.

There were three findings that were particularly distressing. First, more than a third of B.C. drivers (37%) admitted to trying to make up time while driving if they are behind schedule or late for an appointment.

In addition, one-third of B.C. drivers (32%) said that sometimes it’s OK to bend the rules if there are no other drivers around. Finally, while 90% of the drivers we spoke to said they were “confident” in passing the driving test again if they had to, only 22% correctly answered every one of the mock test questions they were presented with.

As the survey results began to be rolled out, a question kept coming from reporters and interested parties: why not re-test B.C.’s drivers every year, or every time they need to renew their licence?

Aside from placing an extraordinary burden on ICBC, there is no guarantee that the idea will succeed in detecting the driving behaviour that is not supposed to be witnessed on our roads.

Think of a man who goes on a first date. Most of us showed up smelling great, properly coiffed and smiling profusely. We probably opened the door so our date could get into the vehicle. We made it a point not to chew while we talked during dinner or place any fingers or objects in our mouth. We used napkins. In short, we behaved like gentlemen.

Now, let’s imagine this first date flourished into a relationship. Two, six or nine months down the road, are we still behaving the same way? Are we looking our best and behaving our best, or are we more likely to go days without a shower, have no problem with our now significant other opening the door to the car without assistance, or speaking with a mouthful of food?

This is the problem with re-testing: it will be an opportunity to review drivers at their best, not at their worst. A driver can behave flawlessly with an examiner inside the vehicle. Signalling. Yielding. Observing the speed limit in all areas. Once the licence has been granted, the driver will revert to his or her normal self.

This is why the awareness campaign that has been recently launched is so crucial. It’s not a question of acting well when the examiner is next to us: it’s a matter of doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. If we all play a role, the number of crashes we endure in the province will drop. Safe driving starts with us. It is not the responsibility – as 43% of those who were recently involved in a “close call” said – of them. 

Mario Canseco is vice-president of public affairs at Insights West.