Where we drive affects how we drive

November 29, 2013, University of Nottingham
Hazard perception test: Malaysian participants reacted more slowly to hazards compared with UK drivers, possibly reflecting the more hazardous road environment they are used to. Credit: The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus: Treshi Perera and Phui Cheng Lim

According to the International Transport Forum Malaysia has one of the highest death rates from road traffic accidents in the world. While the number of road deaths continues to rise in Malaysia the number in the United Kingdom is much lower and experiencing a downward trend. 

For the first time a team of experts have been looking at the cross-cultural effect on ' hazard perception and their research has shown that compared to British drivers, Malaysian motorists are less likely to identify situations as dangerous and also react to them later. This could have consequences for hazard perception tests for drivers in developing countries where is a primary concern.

A cross-cultural study of drivers carried out by experts in the School of Psychology's Driving Research Group at The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) and The University of Nottingham in the UK showed that Malaysian drivers have much slower reaction times and required a higher threshold of danger before taking action. The study has also shown that the better we know the roads we are on the more likely we are to identify events occurring there as hazardous.

The International Transport Forum's Annual report for 2013 showed that in 2011 there were 1,960 fatalities on UK roads—a fall of nearly 64 per cent since 1990. While in Malaysia the figure stood at 6,877—a rise of 70 per cent since 1990.

Phui Cheng Lim, a Postgraduate student who led the research, said: "The fact that Malaysian drivers were slower to respond to danger possibly reflects the more hazardous road environment they are used to. 

"Although hazard perception tests are used in several developed countries as part of the driver licensing curriculum little research has been done in developing countries where road safety is a primary concern. Our results suggest that hazard perception testing, particularly in , would benefit from a paradigm where performance cannot be confused with differing thresholds of what is regarded as a potential hazard."

The research entitled 'Cross-cultural effects on drivers' hazard perception' was carried out both in Malaysia and the UK. It was instigated by Dr Elizabeth Sheppard shortly after she arrived in Malaysia to take up an academic post at UNMC. Funded by an Early Career Research and Knowledge Transfer grant from The University of Nottingham, the research has been published in the academic journal Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour. 

Dr Sheppard said: "I thought getting a car would make life easier but I soon realised that driving in Malaysia was very different from back home in Britain. I had to completely rethink my driving strategy."

Dr Sheppard now heads the Driving Research Group which is made up of experts in traffic psychology and behaviour. This group is among the first to do experimental research on driving in Malaysia. Until now most studies had been based on surveys or observational analysis looking at the social aspects of driving. 

Volunteers from the UK and Malaysia were shown videos of driving scenarios in both countries and tested on their reactions. The difference was statistically significant with British drivers taking an average of 1.68 seconds to register the emerging threat while Malaysian drivers took 2.25 seconds to respond.

Eye tracking data showed the Malaysians were seeing the hazards at the same time as the British drivers but taking much longer to respond, suggesting they considered the hazards to be less dangerous.

Dr Sheppard said: "Although Malaysian drivers reacted more slowly, having a slightly attenuated view of what constitutes a hazard doesn't mean you're not noticing what's going on around you. The kind of test we used works very well in the UK, but for countries where people seem more desensitised to hazards, it may not be as appropriate." Her team is currently investigating alternative ways to examine hazard perception in both the UK and Malaysia.

Explore further: Hazards on the road ahead

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