Confirmation bias eroding the trucking industry

July 13, 2018

Tyson Fisher


Texting and driving is dangerous. Despite the mountain of evidence proving the dangers of distracted driving, a recent study reveals most drivers don’t believe texting while driving is dangerous. Welcome to the dangerous effects of confirmation bias, something the trucking industry knows a lot about.

Approximately 25 percent of car collisions in the U.S. involve cellphone use, according to a recent news release issued by the Society for Risk Analysis. Talking on a cellphone increases crash risk by 2.2 times. Texting? A crash risk increase of 6.1 times.

The National Safety Council, AAA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and numerous studies that can be found at the National Institutes of Health website confirm the dangers of using a cellphone while driving.

Despite all of this evidence, a new Society for Risk Analysis study reveals that 68 percent of participants reported needing a lot of convincing to believe in the dangers of texting and driving. The research also cites “fear of missing out” and separation anxiety as reasons for breaking distracted driving laws.

Confirmation bias hard at work. The majority questions the dangers of texting and driving because it is inconvenient.

This should sound familiar to the trucking industry.

Confirmation bias and the trucking industry

As I highlighted in a blog in June, public perception of trucking is misguided. A lot of this misperception can be attributed to predatory attorneys and bad information. Not unlike data supporting the dangers of distracted driving, there is a wealth of information supporting the trucking industry. People are just choosing to ignore it.

Take crash data, for example. Certain attorneys, safety groups and other associations swear up and down that truckers are killing people on the roads. They will cite incomplete statistics to support that claim.

However, the numbers simply don’t support that idea. Crash numbers only reveal the number of occurrences of truck-involved crashes. Other information such as time of day, location and point of impact is also revealed. What is not revealed is the cause of the crash. Point this out to people who believe truckers are dangerous and they will ignore it. That information doesn’t confirm what they think they know.

Speaking of the crash numbers linked above, they did trample on one falsehood: Fatigued drivers are killing motorists. In only 1.7 percent of fatal crashes in 2016 were sleep or fatigue cited as a factor. Safety groups and lawmakers don’t care. Confirmation bias will lead them to some other misleading numbers.

Confirmation bias also occurs within the trucking industry

It’s not just the public versus the trucking industry. It’s also the trucking industry versus the trucking industry. More accurately, the drivers versus the mega fleets.

Yes, I am talking about the “driver shortage.” Driver shortage is in quotes because it does not exist. The American Trucking Associations’ propaganda campaign of a driver shortage has infiltrated mainstream media. As a result, the general public is buying into it.

When you look at all the evidence, the reality is there is a problem with how mega fleets treat drivers. Hundreds of thousands of new CDLs are granted each year. Yet, turnover rates are nearly 100 percent at some mega fleets. But when you point this out to those who believe in a shortage, they shrug it off. Confirmation bias is keeping driver pay down.

What about allowing younger drivers? ATA has convinced lawmakers that there is a shortage, and the only way to solve the problem is to allow more potential drivers, such as those under 21.

As mentioned, there is no driver shortage. Furthermore, younger drivers can be more of a liability. Even the texting and driving study this blog is about supports that:

More experienced drivers are less likely to engage in distracted driving. Results show that as the number of years with license increase, the probability of participating in distracted driving decreases, and drivers who are more disinhibited are more likely to drive distracted.

Maybe paying drivers more will attract and retain more experienced drivers, leading to safer roads and addressing the demand for drivers. The numbers support that. But that’s crazy. It’s not consistent with what people “know.”

Confirmation bias is hard to shake off

As human beings, we are all susceptible to succumbing to confirmation bias. We all like to think we’re smart enough to see through the BS and interpret data accurately. Human nature is extremely flawed.

William Shakespeare once said, “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

Lao Tzu said in the Tao Te Ching, “The wise man is one who knows what he does not know.”

We all need to think about that the next time we come across information that is not consistent with what we “know.”