You’re not a great driver. You think you are, but you’re not. You speed, run red lights, change lanes without signalling, fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, park in bike lanes, roll through stops signs, and commit countless other misdeeds.
Despite this, you’re convinced that every other driver, pedestrian, and cyclist is the problem. Your particular collection of driving quirks is what makes you an all-star. You speed, but that’s OK because you always shoulder check. You don’t yield to pedestrians, but you stop so other drivers can make left turns. You have it figured out. Not like those other schmucks.
You have this great faith in yourself because of a psychological condition called “illusory superiority,” a common cognitive bias where we overestimate our abilities relative to others. Humans have been making this mistake ever since Og looked at Urk and thought “Me club mammoth better.”
A few years ago, I read an article from the Association for Psychological Science. “Across all experiments participants believed that they were exceptional drivers—but only according to their own definitions of good driving,” it said in 2014. “Even when participants were provided with clear definitions for good driving behaviour from the National Safety Council, they rated their own individualized definitions as better.”
Reflecting that (like you) I’m probably an adequate-at-best and possibly entirely bad driver, I’ve been thinking a lot about the other road users. If we’re all dangerously overestimating our driving skills, where does that leave cyclists and pedestrians? Their stakes are much higher. A driver’s overestimation can grievously injure or kill them in a heartbeat.
So with that sobering thought rattling around my brain for the last few years, I’ve become rather a fan of bike lanes. I haven’t biked in years. My commute to work is entirely by car. But when I’m sitting in morning gridlock and a cyclist shoots past me, I think “Super! There’s one less driver jockeying for space on this road.”
When the federal government recently announced $25 million in funding for Halifax bike lanes (contrast that with $125 million for the Burnside Connector highway), many didn’t share my enthusiasm. On a CBC Facebook post, a commenter named S.C. Carruthers had a common reaction: “With the state the roads are in, convoluted and little enough room for cars, bike lanes done with this province in charge will be nothing short of one more disastrous waste of money.”
Our roads certainly are crowded, which is why I like bike lanes. There’s the simple math that more bikers mean fewer drivers, but also when I see a bike lane, I can be reasonably confident where I’ll find cyclists. I don’t need to worry (as so many seem to) about them coming from “nowhere,” as if they just materialize from another dimension to annoy drivers.
The attitude many drivers, like S.C. Carruthers there, have towards cyclists is another strange cognitive bias: roads are crowded but using a simple time-tested method (improving other modes of transport) to reduce the number of drivers is a waste of money.
Overcoming our biases is hard and I doubt anyone is reading this and thinking “Trevor has accurately identified my illusory superiority; I shall reform.” But maybe the next time you’re sitting in traffic, look around and ask a few questions: am I getting anywhere faster than the drivers around me even though I’m obviously superior? Do I have fewer accidents and get fewer tickets? Am I less stressed and frazzled than them? And why don’t I like bike lanes? How could one possibly hurt me right now?