Maybe most drivers are above average.

A different way to look at data about drivers.


9/7/20232 min read

Over the years, studies have shown that a large number of people, in the 75-80% range, consider themselves to be above average drivers. Obviously, this can’t be true; only 50% can truly be above average. The discrepancy is typically associated with overconfidence. Is that the best explanation? Are people really that disconnected with reality? I propose another explanation, call it a 3rd reaction.

For starters, what an average driver is, is difficult to determine and define. It is not like height where it can be precisely measured. Also, the word “average” is often preceded by “about” turning a mathematically definable concept into something less precise. So how large of a range is “about average”? Recalling statistics, 68% of a normally distributed population is within one standard deviation of the mean. I believe most people think of “mean” when they hear the word average. It is not unreasonable to consider everyone with 1 standard deviation of the mean as “about average”.

Let’s make another little change and look at the question as meaning “not below average” instead of “above average”. Can we agree those are generally equivalent terms? Let’s see what happens when we consider that opposite perspective with the fuzzy “about average” above. We can easily see that 50% of drivers are not below average. Since 34% of the population is 1 standard deviation or less below the mean but still “about average”, we get 84% of people are “not below about average”.

The studies say ~75% of drivers consider themselves above average and using these two little “tricks”, we have just made a reasonable argument that 84% of drivers should consider themselves above average. We don’t have an overconfidence problem, we have an under confidence problem.

Before you send a nasty reply picking apart my rudimentary statistics, I am not saying we have an under confidence problem instead of an overconfidence one. I am saying we have a lack of clear definition problem. No one argues over who is the fastest runner of all-time: right now it is Usain Bolt. Many will argue over who is the greatest NFL quarterback. I won’t even hazard to name the contestants. That argument is probably easier to have than what an average driver is. Driving skill is hard to quantify. Knowing what average is is not any easier. So, let’s give those overconfident drivers a break and recognize that the question itself was not terribly fair. Maybe the studies show overconfidence, but it probably isn’t as big as it seems.