Third Party Perception

This is a subject that needs no technical know-how, nor does it need any specialist skills. It is something that every driver needs to be aware of and should always carry the thought in their mind everywhere they go, but very seldom does. We are talking about 'Third Party Perception '. What is it? It's the impression that you give another driver or person in the street based on your driving style.

As an example, let's create a scenario. Paul Thompson - a fictitious character for the purposes of this analogy - is a man who generally speaking is a responsible individual behind the wheel of a car. Yes he likes fast cars, but not having a high disposable income he has a mid-range family type saloon. He is a married man with young children and holds a responsible position within the company for which he works. A generally well liked, well rounded and respected chap.

One day, Paul learns that he is to be rewarded for his performance at work by being offered a job promotion. Realising this will give him a better lifestyle and enhance his personal status he is understandably excited by the news. By the time he reaches the end of his day at the office and been slapped on the back for about the 40th time by yet another mate who wants to congratulate him, he is very excited. As he jumps into his car his mind is racing with the thought of how his wife is going to be so pleased with him when he breaks the news upon his arrival home.

And they're off...

Paul drives across the office car park with a squeal of tyres and repeats it as he exits the premises onto the road. With his music song thumping out on his in-car entertainment system he hurries along through the traffic growing ever more eager to get home.

Ten minutes into the journey our hero suddenly comes to his senses with the thought that he is perhaps becoming a little over exuberant and that he ought to just calm down a little. Perhaps this may have been prompted by a 'moment' on the road that caused him some alarm. As quickly as the thought came upon him his whole driving manner changes. He reduces speed, turns down the stereo and generally takes on the air of the model driver; this being his normal self style.


Thirty seconds further on a pedestrian walks into the road in front of Paul's car and, not having time to react, he drives into her and causes substantial injury. There was nothing he could have done. All the advanced driving techniques in the world would not have made a scrap of difference - even if he had been given those skills. The pedestrian merely timed the entry onto the road to perfection. It truly was not Paul's fault.

The Police and Ambulance service are now on the scene and Paul is feeling pretty sickened by his situation. He doesn't know whether to cry, scream or what to do. He is in some distress. One of the traffic patrol officers asks him for an explanation, at which point he can only seem to manage to put a maximum of three words together in one sentence as he attempts to describe what happened. The officer leaves him in the capable hands of the paramedics, but as Paul is seated in the ambulance he notices another police officer talking to two other persons, both of who seem rather animated in their manner. Paul can't hear them but they seem agitated.


From the point when Paul left the office until thirty-seconds before impact he was driving in excess of the speed limit, had overtaken 4 other vehicles which themselves were driving at the speed limit, swung his car from one lane to another to weave through the traffic and did an 'amber gambler' job at a set of traffic lights.

His antics overall were probably seen by 20-30 pedestrians, the occupants of the 4-cars he overtook, the occupants of a public service bus not to mention the many other people who saw him. But how many people took notice of the last 29 seconds of Paul's drive? Not one, because there was nothing remarkable or spectacular about it. Because Paul was driving sensibly and he did not draw attention to himself.

First Impressions Count

Paul is now in hot water. The police officer investigating the incident is getting plenty of information about Paul's attitude as a driver and about how badly he was driving when in actual fact he was driving very well at the time of the collision. So what is the officer supposed to think about Paul? Put yourself in his position and ask yourself how would your judgement of this individual be affected by all the eyewitness reports?  Don’t think it doesn’t happen because it does!

The message we are trying to get across here is that a driver could be behaving like an idiot, even for as little as 10 seconds of his/her journey, during which time many other people could observe him/her. At the end of that 'snapshot' in time, the driver may suddenly regain his/her senses and become the model motorist, which is the way he/she drives 99.9% of the time anyway. However, around the corner a collision occurs and although our driver is completely innocent there may be no independent witnesses to the actual crash but plenty to the antecedent driver behaviour.

Meanwhile, all those that had earlier seen the 10-second session of madness have arrived upon the scene. Because their perception is being affected by their own emotions experienced a few minutes earlier they are only too eager to give their account of how they saw this maniac as he sped passed them further back up the road.

Witness to a Crime?

The information the 'witnesses' provide now begins to turn the story of the collision into a totally different colour and now, our generally careful and competent driver, starts to be looked upon as a very undesirable and antisocial individual and who should be taken to the nearest point of execution!

This is a side to driving that few drivers think about when using their car on the road and yet it is perhaps one area that is very important and one that could have far reaching implications.

Always make safe unobtrusive progress and drive in a smooth flowing manner.  Be very conscious of your image and if you do not learn anything from this page, just remember these few words of wisdom:

  • Every person you overtake is potentially a hostile witness to the crash you could have around the next bend or otherwise out of their view.
  • If you drive in such a manner so as to draw attention to yourself - don't start complaining when you get it, even though it may not be the kind of attention you wanted.

Comments (60) Join the discussion on the forum

  • hertsbiker 31 Jul 2003

    Excellent article. Been thinking about this exact same point myself for sometime.

  • rude girl 31 Jul 2003

    There are quite a few really interesting and informative articles like this on the Ride Drive website. Definitely worth a surf some time.

  • Mr E 31 Jul 2003

    Very sensibly written. Can't see an authors name anywhere, but well done you....

    Scary thoughts. Who hasn't had the Stupid Driving Pixie (as we christened him) decend to sit on their shoulders for a couple of minutes.

  • _Al_ 31 Jul 2003


    I've been terrible for this recently, all those 45mph numpties on my 2 hour cross country trek.

    Tend to go banzai to get past them (albeit only when I'm convinced it's really safe).

    I've yet to have headlights flashed at me, but I wonder what they think; especially as I have a large plastic spoiler and a GTI badge!

    Excellent article. Think I'll send that round a few mates.

  • CarZee 31 Jul 2003

    Food for thought indeed...

    as for the author, I reckon MadCop wrote it.

    Whoever's writing it is, good effort!

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