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How risky is something compared to how risky you think it is?

An experiment on how actual risk and how you perceive risk play a significant role in your life

Published on : 
September 20, 2021
Updated on : 
September 23, 2021

Once upon a time, a professor teaching business management and strategy at a well-known university decides to ask a single question in one of her exams,  “what is risk?” While all the students wrote pages and pages in the effort to get the highest score, one answered it with, “this is,” on plain white paper. And, as the story goes, that student scored the highest in the class.

A few months later, the professor asked the same question to the same class, and the same student wrote the same answer. However, this time, he failed because, as the professor responded, since he knew this gambit had been successful in the past, it was no longer risky.

Every day, we make crucial decisions about our lives, knowingly or unknowingly, by considering potential risks and their consequences. Sometimes it’s about how we should invest our money, or sometimes it’s about going out late on a weekday, risking being late for work the following day. But in this blog post, we will discuss how our perception of risk works while we drive, as it’s always best to see how these kinds of ideas can work in real life.

To better understand how drivers perceive their risk as they drive, we designed an experiment to observe three identical drivers, tracking their driving for three months. We also asked them to fill out a questionnaire as they progressed through this experiment.  This way we could measure their real risk as a driver (i.e. accident risk), as well as how they perceived this risk, seeing how it changes over time. But first, let’s get to know our drivers a bit more.

Let's get to know our drivers

Our drivers were identical in terms of demographics and the vehicle that they drive. They are all 35-year-old men that live in West Toronto, are married, drive a 2018 Toyota Corolla, and have held a driver’s license for 15 years. Also, none of them have ever gotten into an accident before.

This selection is important because they pay the same premium for their car insurance, i.e. roughly $120 per month, which, in theory, should be representative of their actual risk. But is it? Let’s look at the summary of their responses to the questionnaire compared to their Allegory Driving Score.

Perceived risk of the first driver:

  • I refrain from touching my phone while I’m driving. I also try to not use hands-free.
  • If I’m in a hurry or the traffic flows faster, I may exceed the speed limit by up to 10%.
  • When I see an amber light, I start slowing down rather than speeding up to make it.
A two dimensional chart showing the results of a test which depicts a driver's perceived risk and actual risk

Perceived risk of the second driver:

  • If there's an urgent call, I would take the call using hands-free calling.
  • When the road is empty, there is no harm in exceeding the speed limit.
  • I usually accelerate faster after waiting for a long time at a red light.
A two dimensional chart showing the results of a test which depicts a driver's perceived risk and actual risk

Perceived risk of the third driver:

  • I have no problem using my phone when driving, especially while sitting in traffic.
  • I think the current speed limits are too low compared to other developed countries like Germany.
  • I’m a good driver, but I brake frequently because most drivers don’t know how to drive.
A two dimensional chart showing the results of a test which depicts a driver's perceived risk and actual risk

Before we look at how each of these driver's Driving Score changed over time, let's spend some time understanding these graphs a little bit better.

We all know that texting while driving is risky, simply because distracted drivers are more likely to get into a car accident. For example, according to NHTSA, 3,142 people were killed while they were distracted and driving in 2019. So, if we know this and act accordingly, our perception of risk lines up with the actual risk. That is, we know distracted driving is dangerous, so we perceive it to be risky, which is proven out by the data. In the graphs, this is shown on the top-right corner.

However, some drivers think that they can multitask while driving. Even if the action they're engaging in is risky, they perceive it as safe, and the relationship between actual risk and perceived risk goes in the opposite direction, which is shown on the bottom-right corner of the graph. Now, let's see how Allegory helped these drivers to prevent accidents over time.

Allegory Driving Score in action

At Allegory, we never judge, nor do we, "punish," you by increasing your premium because your driving is risky. Time and time again, we've seen that this approach doesn't work, and it doesn't help anyone either. Instead, our focus is on helping you get better at driving, preventing accidents. And that's how we help our drivers too.

In the graph below, a higher score means a lower risk of getting into a car accident. Our first driver started at 92 out of 100, steadily improving his score up to 96 at the end of the third month. On the other hand, the third driver, who considered himself safe but wasn't actually that safe, started his journey with Allegory in the low-50's but was able to increase it to the mid-70's in only a month. This means that overall he reduced his accident risk by 50% in that time.

If you want to learn more about how the Allegory Driving Score works, you can read our detailed article in this blog post.

How can Allegory help you change your perception of risk?

Allegory is a personalized risk advisor that helps you get better at driving and prevent accidents. It's as simple as downloading the Allegory App from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store and driving as you normally would. The app tracks your driving as soon as you start (or you can start trips manually), to make sure that your focus is on the road. We're then able to measure your driving behavior over time, giving you personalized insight that helps you drive safer, and lower your risk of getting into an accident.

Stay safe on the road with the Allegory App.

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