When it comes to psychology, there are a lot of different areas of study. After all, psychology is pretty broad – it’s the study of how our minds work and how we come to display certain behaviors. Think about all of the decisions you make in a day: the decision to hang out with friends, whether or not you want to yell at the person who cut you off, or whether you think it’s “worth it” to break the laws that society put in place. All of these decisions relate back to different areas of psychology, including traffic psychology.
Yes, I said “traffic psychology.”
What Is Traffic Psychology?
Traffic psychology is the study of the mind and behavior as it relates to driving. But this isn’t just about what people think about when they’re sitting in traffic on their way to work. Traffic psychology looks at the intricacies of driving and the decisions that people make in their car.
Traffic psychology is, not surprisingly, a relatively new branch of psychology. It has primarily been centered in Europe since the 1960s. This makes sense because cars have only been on the road since the late 1800s!
What Do Traffic Psychologists Do?
So what exactly are traffic psychologists studying if they’re not surveying what podcasts people enjoy on their commute? When you get into the central questions of traffic psychology, you can understand how important this field is:
How feelings and motivations impact traffic accidents.
Traffic accidents are preventable. We know how dangerous they can be to ourselves and others. So why do we engage in behaviors that could cause traffic accidents? Why do we talk on the cell phone, eat, or listen to distracting music while driving? All of these questions can be traced back to motivation and behavior, so psychologists must be involved in the process of finding the answers.
What laws and systems of punishment can prevent traffic accidents.
Different governments at the national, state, and local levels set laws regarding traffic. Do these help or hurt a person’s motivation to speed or commit other dangerous acts? Do DUI checkpoints increase or decrease a person’s motivation to recruit a DD or call an Uber? Looking specifically at public policy can help government officials set the right laws and punishments for drivers who may tend to have a lead foot or distract themselves while driving.
When do people experience road rage?
Is this a symptom of an individual or traffic patterns themselves? Are there factors that psychologists have been missing when considering what makes someone prone to road rage? When is road rage impulsive and when is it a sign of larger emotional issues? The answers to these questions may help identify people who need intervention on the road and also keep everyone safer while driving.
Habits regarding traffic and driving.
Those who habitually text while driving may not need stricter laws to motivate them – they might just need to learn how to break a bad habit. The habits people carry while driving may start in driver’s education or end only when proper intervention has been taken. Traffic psychologists can help to see these patterns and habits and consult campaigns on initiatives that help people break bad habits.
Driver education and testing.
What needs to be on a driver’s test? When should people retake tests in order to renew their licenses? Changes to current programs have the potential to save lives and keep our road safer. Traffic psychologists may be needed to study and assess what procedures are safest and what needs to be assessed before someone is put on the road.
How to Become a Traffic Psychologist
As you can see, there is a lot more to traffic psychology than you might think. The research findings that traffic psychologists can offer won’t just help Europeans on the road, either. This work has the potential to save many lives across the world – that’s a good reason to get into a career!
But traffic psychology isn’t the easiest career to get into. You can’t just go to any school for traffic psychology like you would for business or public relations. If you want to study traffic psychology in the United States, you will likely need to complete your doctorate degree in general psychology. During this time, you should look out for internships that have to do with your desired field of study. Maybe you take up an internship with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or you search for psychologists studying traffic and ask them for their recommendations. You might also find a career in your field by working at a research facility that allows you to research the questions you have about driver behavior and motivations.
What Is a Traffic Psychologist’s Salary?
Remember, traffic psychology is a very new field of study. There isn’t much data on the salaries that traffic psychologists make, although looking at what other psychologists make, you can get an idea of what you will earn as a traffic psychologist or another type of specialized psychologist.
As this field develops, organizations will discover this field and the ways that traffic psychology can help them. If this is a passion of yours, don’t be afraid to pursue it – we need traffic psychologists to help change public policy, keep people safe, and understand why we get so frustrated in traffic!
You might not know any famous traffic psychologists or see any books relating to traffic psychology on the New York Times best-seller list, but this is a branch of psychology that people are studying every day!