Any article on road safety always states the big three killers – speeding, alcohol and fatigue. Distraction by mobiles is another, but there are no solid figures. So far, nobody has looked at the contribution of impatience. Impatience could be the cause or the result of all four killers.
How impatience works
The experience of impatience is a natural and necessary one. Feeling impatience helps motivate us to take action when it’s needed. Psychologists say impatience is the primary feeling and patience is the opposite, rather than the other way round. That means we are hardwired to experience impatience to get things done.
If we have a goal and realise it’s going to cost more than we thought to reach it, then impatience is triggered. For example, driving after work to pick up children from childcare without incurring a lateness fine. But heavy congestion or an accident, or a slow moving vehicle, get in the way and you know you will be late and fined.
When impatience sets in, you want to reduce the cost of reaching that goal – or change the goal. You might look for a chance to change lanes, take another route altogether or work out a valid reason for being late and avoiding the fine.
We make irrational choices
The feeling of impatience is more dangerous when other feelings, like anger, add to it. If the high cost of being late is unexpected (paying a fine) and we think it’s somebody else’s fault (the person in front), we could make an irrational choice.
Impatience can lead to these types of impatient driving:
- Darting from one lane to another just to get a gap
- Rushing at intersections to try and beat the lights or having to brake heavily
Even at low speeds, driving too close can cause an accident. Insufficient following distances are even more dangerous at high speeds. Men cause nearly two-thirds of all rear-end crashes, the most common type of crash. Tailgaters are always in a hurry, want their place on the road and suffer from a sense of entitlement – or just angry impatience.
Today’s always-on technologies may encourage impatience, because they offer everything you want now. When you are tired, under the influence of alcohol, or constantly checking your phone messages, impatience can set in fast. Even two seconds waiting for a red light to change can start to feel like a long time.
One way to approach this is to notice when you start feeling impatient and make an effort to calm down. While impatience can be useful to get things done, impatient driving can have a serious price.