Shocking stat of the day: Despite the invention of airbags, seatbelts, antilock brakes and god knows how many other improvements meant to keep us safe, traffic deaths aren't much lower than before all that was invented.
How is that even possible? Well, if you've spent five minutes on the roads today, you know why: People can't drive worth a shit. Here are some scientific reasons that guy in the next lane is about to run you into a guardrail.
#6. He Just Finished Playing a Racing Video Game
Unless you're a professional gamer, a mercenary for hire or you just take lots of acid and often find yourself chasing six-foot tall mushrooms through the streets, there really aren't that many video game skills that translate into something practical in the real world.
At first blush, racing games seem to be an exception to that rule. We all have to drive, right? And not just anyone can navigate a Lamborghini Murcielaga through Las Vegas at 185 miles-per-hour and only slaughter, like, two pedestrians. Surely the dexterity and reflexes required to brake, boost and drift all at the same time in Burnout: Paradise translate to some sweet fucking chops behind the wheel of an actual car, right?
Not the same as real life.
Incredibly, video games have failed to improve our lives again.
A recent study found that men who simply play racing games and then get behind the wheel of a real car tend to take more risks, display more aggression toward other motorists and generally drive like they're trying to cross some imaginary finish line before everyone else. Or, like the other cars are cheating by teleporting right behind him even when he knew he was way ahead, goddamnit.
Curiously, this effect can be blunted if you simply avoid having a penis. Studies showed women can play Gran Turismo for eight hours straight, drive home in the heaviest rush-hour traffic ever and never once scream, "Get that piece of shit out of my way you festering communist anal wart."
#5. The Dunning-Kruger Effect
This one is not only a cause for bad driving everywhere, but also about half of the bad stuff that happens in the world.
Have you ever known anyone who thought they were awesome at something when, in reality, they sucked very, very badly? Even when all their friends told them they sucked? And their mother told them they sucked? You've got the guy at the office who still insists he could play in the NFL, the shrieking girl on karaoke night who is sure she could sing professionally if she chose to...
It's possible that those poor souls are living in the shadow of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Cornell psychologists Justin Kruger and David Dunning describe this phenomenon as someone being "unskilled and unaware," meaning they have a specific short circuit in their brains that makes them suck at figuring out they suck.
Once you are aware of this phenomenon, you'll see it five times a day in your everyday life. And perhaps nowhere is this more dramatically demonstrated than on our roadways.
This driver will vastly overestimate his own driving abilities, while underestimating or diminishing everyone else's, and he'll be as self-assured as possible while he's doing it. That's why he thinks he's perfectly capable of talking on his cell while steering with a sandwich, but anybody else who does that should have both their license and reproductive organs revoked.
Experts call this "deficient metacognitive skill" but it's basically a ridiculous system by which a person continually sees all other drivers as worse than they are, therefore making himself look better by comparison. This is coupled with a complete inability to self-evaluate, so they go on living in their own little fantasy world where they're the king of the road, and the rest of us are just obstacles to be avoided, sped by and flipped off.
#4. The Safer They Feel, the Worse They Drive
The primary need of every human is to feel safe and secure. Once those needs are met, it really frees us up to concentrate on other more important things, like changing lanes without looking, tailgating other drivers and leaning on our horn during a traffic jam just to alert other drivers that we're displeased with the situation.
Everyone else hates it too. Shut up.
Everybody has an acceptable level of risk, and scientists say we try to keep risk at the same acceptable level in any situation. This sort of makes sense until you realize that if your risk level is too low, you will actually engage in riskier behavior to compensate.
So, for example, when you get into your custom Volvo with the five-point harness NASCAR seat belts, side impact airbags and anti-lock, you don't just pat yourself on the back for being extra safe. No, you subconsciously compensate by driving faster, following other cars more closely and flipping the bird more frequently.
On the opposite side of the psychological highway, the driver in the '74 Ford Pinto with the washrag gas cap and four bald tires is probably driving under the speed limit, signaling every turn and hating your guts as you whiz by him at 90 miles-an-hour.
Last known sighting of the elusive Pinto.
Maybe it's the same reason football players get concussions even with those armored, padded helmets on their heads. Each guy seems to think, "Hey, I've got my skull good and protected! That means I can slam my head into dudes even harder."
Basically, all the well-intentioned safety measures the world imposes on us are nullified by the psychopath that lies just below the surface in all of us.