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THE ACCIDENT-PRONE AUTOMOBILE DRIVER A Study of the Psychiatric and Social Background
W. A. TILLMANN; G. E. HOBBS
Am J Psychiatry 1949;106:321-331.
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The Department of Clinical Preventive Medicine, The University of Western Ontario.

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Abstract

In this study the existence of accidentprone drivers has been demonstrated in the records of accidents from a bus company extending over a period of 6 years. The frequency of appearance of the same individual in the high accident group in multiple years has been noted. It has been shown that because of their high accident rate their importance in contributing accidents far exceeds their numbers. In other words, a few drivers account for a disproportionate number of accidents year after year.A group of high and low accident drivers in a taxi firm have been interviewed and the differences in the personality and background of the 2 groups have been noted. It has been demonstrated that the high accident taxi driver most frequently comes from a home marked by parental divorce and instability. During childhood his life is marked by evidence of instability and disrespect for organized authority. As a result he has often encountered difficulty with the school authority and frequently has been before the Juvenile Court. In adulthood his occupation record is marked by frequent short-term employment and his connections with any firm are frequently terminated by the employer. He has a police record apart from traffic violations much more frequently than those within the low accident group. His personal life is marked by the same evidence of social disregard as noted in the other aspects of his life. For this reason he is frequently known to various social agencies such as the Children's Aid Societies, the Family Service Bureau, and the Public Health Department. He is an individual who places all emphasis on material values and who acts only with thought for immediate satisfaction without any concern for tomorrow. His driving is marked by the same tendency of aggressiveness, impulsiveness, and lack of thought for [see Fig2 in source pdf] others and the disrespect for authority that was noted in his personal life.To determine if there was evidence of the same type of personality involved in frequent accidents within the general population, the names of 96 drivers with a record of 4 or more accidents was obtained from the Ontario Department of Highways. These were compared with a comparable group of 100 accident-free individuals. These were checked for contact with the various health, social, and law enforcement agencies within our area. The findings for the high accident members in the driving group were essentially the same as those encountered in the taxi driver group.It would appear that the driving habits, and the high accident record, are simply one manifestation of a method of living that has been demonstrated in their personal lives. Truly it may be said that a man drives as he lives. If his personal life is marked by caution, tolerance, foresight, and consideration for others then he will drive in the same manner. If his personal life is devoid of these desirable characteristics then his driving will be characterized by aggressiveness and over a long period of time he will have a much higher accident rate than his more stable companion.The information obtained in this study should be of practical importance in the selection of drivers by commercial organisations and in the control of general population members with an unduly high accident rate.(a) Driver Selection by Commercial Organizations.— A great deal of time and effort has been applied to the problem of selecting drivers for commercial organizations. The method most frequently applied is a group of psychophysical tests such as reaction time to specific stimuli, tests for coordination, etc. However, we could find no evidence in the literature that would suggest that these tests can differentiate the high from the low accident driver. It would seem to us that the use of these tests is based on a simple, but fundamental error(7). They appear to test something that is related to driver skill. They could help in picking a good from a poor driver. However, this is something entirely different from safe driving. In our study of the high accident drivers we encountered many drivers that could be considered as highly skilled in the handling of an automobile but they were not safe drivers. Safe driving would appear to be more dependent on judgment, caution, and consideration of the possible errors of others, than upon reaction time and binocular vision(6). In accident proneness the defect is above, not below, the basal ganglia. Therefore, we would feel that some effort in driver selection should be directed to deter mining the type of individual that is being employed. The various factors described in this paper should be checked for each potential employee. This does not require special psychiatric training. Any intelligent personnel manager should be able to take the superficial type of life history that is capable of differentiating the mild psychopath from the well-adjusted stable individual. A simple enquiry covering the field of the family background, childhood characteristics, school and work adjustment, and interests will readily demonstrate the type of person that is being considered. Additional information should be available through the various social and law enforcement agencies of the type that we have obtained for the general driving population, and can serve as a confirmation of the interview. This information should make it easy to identify the accident-prone driver in advance and to see that he is directed to some type of occupation where he is of less danger to himself and to others than he is behind the wheel of a truck.(b)General Driving Population.—An accident-prone individual can be easily identified by the record of his accidents. If one waits long enough and keeps an accurate record of accidents it becomes clear, after a number of years, that certain individuals have a sufficiently high accident record to make it unsafe for them to continue driving. During this period, however, many innocent persons may be maimed or killed. When a person has had one, two, or three accidents within a relatively short period of time, would it not appear much more reasonable that he be called in for interview and that a history of the type we have described be taken, and that the various social and law enforcement agencies be contacted to determine if he fits the pattern that we have attempted to describe in this paper? If he does, we feel that one would be justified in revoking this man's license at a much earlier stage than would appear to be possible by simply considering the accident record alone. If this man were to apply for reinstatement of his license, then we feel that he must bring forward evidence that he has changed his general pattern of living before this license should be returned to him. Certainly this would seem much more reasonable than simply to revoke a license for a specific period of time on the assumption that something magical must take place during this period, whereby he will have learned his lesson and he will now become a safe driver. It is not a matter of learning a lesson, but rather it is a matter of basic inherent personality characteristics that must change before the man would be a safe driver. This suggestion will probably appear rather drastic. We do feel that at the present time there would be a great deal of difficulty in instituting such a programme. Undoubtedly it will be passed by as being ivory-tower type of thinking. We must wait until society is convinced that accidents are not always chance happenings, and that sometimes they reflect the basic personality of the individual.

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