I had the pleasure of driving for a few hours in yesterday’s New England blizzard. (I was coming back from a radio interview for “On Point,” which is broadcast out of WBUR in Boston. You can listen to me here.) While driving up a white I-93, I counted more than a dozen vehicles that had lost control, zoomed off the highway shoulder, and ended up trapped in snow banks. So far, so normal. A snow storm makes for treacherous driving. But here’s the surprising observation (at least, it was surprising to me): 8 of the 13 cars were trucks. Big, brawny 4×4’s. The kind of vehicle that people buy because it can drive in the snow.
Obviously, my sample size was small. But I wonder if truck-drivers in inclement weather drive with a false sense of confidence. It’s better to have four-wheel drive in the snow, but an icy road is still an icy road. This hypothesis would dovetail with research showing that drivers with various safety options (air-bags, ABS, etc.) tend to drive more recklessly and are responsible for more accidents. (This is known as risk homeostasis.) In other words, the safer we perceive our cars to be, the less safely we tend to drive them.
For more this research, check out the work of Fred Mannering.