Why We Don’t Wear Seat Belts in Cabs (Even Though We Know Better)

Buckle up, Be safe

Buckle up, Be safe

Please Buckle up when you ride TAXI IN AUSTIN :

Buckling up is the easiest way to stay safe in a car. So why is it so easy to “forget” to do it in a cab? (Photo: Alamy)

Some risks are so obvious, just thinking about them sounds alarm bells: Driving in a blizzard or smoking cigarettes are just a couple that immediately come to mind.

But while there are the obvious risky situations, there are others that even the most diligent among us walk right into.

Say you’re about to head out on a work trip, so you call a cab to the airport. You get in the car and don’t bother buckling up. Maybe you take a little snooze before getting dropped off at your terminal. “By the time you arrive in the cab at the airport, the most injurious part of your journey is over,” Andreas Wilke, PhD, an associate professor at Clarkson University, tells Yahoo Health. After all, driving is far more dangerous than flying — especially if you didn’t bother to put on the seat belt. The thing is: We just don’t see it that way.

We’ve all been there: We skip the seat belt in a cab, text when we’re stopped at the red light, lay out by the pool without sunscreen, and get behind the wheel even though we’re totally sleep-deprived. To figure out why we do these, well, stupid things, we first must understand how we come to make decisions in the first place.

There are two different modes for thinking our way through decisions: Through experience (running away when something is scary, or lashing out when you’re angry), and through deliberation (knowing that UV rays cause skin cancer, so making the logical decision to avoid the rays).

“The deliberative mode is based more on numbers,” Ellen Peters, PhD, a psychology professor and director of the Decision Sciences Collaborative at The Ohio State University, tells Yahoo Health. The problem: Numbers don’t always carry much meaning, particularly to people who aren’t naturally mathematically inclined. And that’s when the first mode — decision-making based on experiences — takes over.

Here’s an example: Wearing a seat belt is the No. 1 way to protect yourself in a motor vehicle accident; doing so saved an estimated 75,000 lives between 2004 and 2008, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “And while we might have some idea about this, we also might think, ‘Well, I didn’t wear one last time and it was OK,’” she says. “In this case, our experience is working against us.”

The same goes for texting and driving — we all know it’s super dangerous to type away behind the wheel, but we also may have shot off a few texts earlier at that red light and lived to tell the tale.

What throws our perceptions of risk out of whack?

We Misunderstand the Real Risk

We tend to perceive risk based on how someone has described it to us — and not because we have actually experienced it, explains Ann Bostrom, PhD, a researcher at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy and Governance who studies risk perception and communication.

Take someone who’s afraid of flying, after watching all the recent news coverage of planes that have crashed or disappeared. The reality is, plane crashes are rare: There were 73 commercial airline accidents, 12 of which were fatal, in 2014 — or about one accident for every 4.4 million flights, according to the International Air Travel Association. To compare: In 2013 alone, there were 30,057 fatal motor vehicle crashes.

But plane crashes tend to be described in horrific ways, and “that evokes a feeling that sticks with us and could make us very precautious,” Bostrom tells Yahoo Health.

Of course, familiarity is also a factor in how we make decisions, adds Wilke. Frequent flyers might not be as nervous about being in the air — and might even be more likely to fly than drive. The opposite can also be true: Someone who never flies may be more nervous and thus stick to the roads. Also, if you’ve lost someone close to you in a plane crash or a car crash, you may be more likely to avoid that mode of transportation.

We Think We’re in Control (Even When We’re Not)

Experience and information about risks aren’t the only factors at play in decision-making, though. Feeling in control or out of control can also alter the way you take risks, says Bostrom.

Back to the seat belt example: You may think that because taxi drivers are professionals at what they do, you’re safer when riding in a cab than when you’re driving yourself or are a passenger to a friend or family member. You’re in a controlled environment. Therefore, you may be more likely to skip the seat belt when riding in a cab.