The optimism bias and traffic accident risk perception

Accid Anal Prev. 1989 Aug;21(4):333-40. doi: 10.1016/0001-4575(89)90024-9.


Research suggests that people are excessively and unrealistically optimistic when judging their driving competency and accident risk. In this study, college-age drivers compared their risk of being involved in a variety of described traffic accidents relative to their peers. They also rated each of the accidents along a number of dimensions hypothesized as being related to optimism. In addition, subjects provided global estimates of their driving safety, skill, and accident likelihood. Significant optimism was evident for both the accidents and the global ratings. Optimism increased with driving experience and marginally with age. Those with more driving experience considered human factors to be more important in accident causation; those assigning more importance to human factors also rated themselves as more skillful drivers. For the specific accidents, perceived controllability was a strong predictor of optimism. The findings for controllability are interpreted in terms of other recent data and hypothesized explanations of the optimism bias. In general, it appears that optimism arises because people persistently overestimate the degree of control that they have over events.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Male
  • Peer Group
  • Safety
  • Self Concept*