Traffic Psychologist Careers

What is Traffic Psychology?

Traffic psychology is a relatively new sub-field of psychology that is closely related to human factors and engineering psychology. However, as the name implies, traffic psychology is concerned only with the application of psychological principles to increasing the understanding of behaviors that occur in the context of travel. Transportation logistics, the nature and cause of accidents, and road rage are common topics of investigation in traffic psychology as well.

Several ideas form the foundation of traffic psychology. First, traffic psychology seeks to promote self-awareness in driving situations – with greater awareness about one’s driving behavior comes improved driving skill and a reduced risk of causing an accident. Second, improving driver reactions to roadway events is a primary point of emphasis. This includes facilitating self-reflection in order to prevent drivers from overreacting to situations on the roadway. Lastly, traffic psychology seeks to promote affective, sensorimotor, and cognitive responsibility in all drivers in order to improve the traffic experience for everyone.

What Does a Traffic Psychologist Do?

Traffic psychologists focus on the interaction between humans and traffic-related environments. Traffic psychologists spend much of their time conducting research into these factors such that traffic designs can be made more safe and comfortable for roadway users. Everything from the type of font used on road signs to the aesthetic appeal of the landscaping along a new roadway to the manner in which drivers and bicyclists share a roadway might be the subject of study by a traffic psychologist.

There are consulting duties for traffic psychologists as well. They might work with engineers or transportation officials to inform them of the psychological impacts on a community when a new highway is built. The placement of roadways, on and off ramps, and other necessary traffic features like stoplights may be topics of inquiry for traffic psychologists as well. The purpose of consulting on these factors is to improve usability and increase the level of safety for drivers.

Another primary duty of traffic psychologists is to investigate the emotional, social, and cognitive underpinnings of traffic-related behavior. Road rage is a prime example. Traffic psychologists might conduct studies to learn about the events that trigger road rage. Similarly, they might investigate the individual personality characteristics of a person that make them more or less likely to confront another driver in a violent manner. Traffic psychologists also seek to identify ways to improve driving behavior and promote chivalry, charity, responsibility, and rationality when taking to the road.

Some traffic psychologists also offer counseling services to people that have been in a traffic accident, have been confronted by an angry driver, or have otherwise experienced stress, emotional distress, or other traumas on the roadway. This may include therapeutic services to individuals that are addicted to speeding or who have irrational fears about traffic (i.e. that they will be trapped in traffic forever). Accident victims may require emotional and practical support from a traffic psychologist in order to be comfortable driving again or riding as a passenger in a vehicle.

What is the Employment Outlook for Traffic Psychologists?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the field of psychology, that is, all disciplines within this realm of work, will experience average growth over the next decade or so. All occupations that comprise the U.S. economy are expected to grow by 11 percent through the mid-2020s. Jobs in psychology are expected to grow at the same rate.

Estimating the availability of jobs in traffic psychology is extremely difficult. On the one hand, it is a relatively new, highly specialized field of work, therefore, there aren’t many jobs to be had. While this might make finding work in traffic psychology difficult, at the same time, there are relatively few qualified workers in traffic psychology. This works in the favor of individuals that get training as a traffic psychologist.

How Much Does a Traffic Psychologist Make?

Reliable salary information for traffic psychologists is extremely difficult to come by because the BLS does not offer occupational information on this specific field of psychological practice. The closest related field, human factors and engineering psychology, is reported by the American Psychological Association as having a starting pay range of $48,000 to $75,367 per year. More experienced workers and those with a doctorate can earn much more than that. In fact, consultants in the field earn an average yearly wage of $179,160.

The wage one can expect is heavily influenced by location. Because there is a greater need for traffic psychology services in urban areas, pay is higher than it is in rural areas. Additionally, the industry in which one works will influence the salary earned. As stated above, individuals that work as consultants will earn the most money, followed by those that work in business and government settings.

What are the Education Requirements to Become a Traffic Psychologist?

The first step in becoming a traffic psychologist is to complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology. This course of study introduces students to the broad concepts of human behavior that can later be applied to understanding traffic-related issues. Undergraduate psychology programs are extremely popular at colleges and universities throughout the United States. Many online degree programs have become available in recent years as well.

Upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree, students should pursue a master’s degree. There is some leeway in the type of master’s degree one obtains. General psychology, or a specialization in cognitive or social psychology is a good choice. Graduate studies in human science, social work, or even engineering are advisable as well, so long as there is coursework in psychology included.

Some traffic psychologists pursue advanced studies by completing a doctorate program. This affords students the ability to conduct intensive research into issues related to traffic psychology, and, therefore, better prepares them to work in the field. Ph.D. programs often include an internship or fellowship program that lasts from one to two years. During this time, Ph.D. students continue their research into traffic related issues and get real-world experience working in the field of traffic psychology.

At this point in time, there is no certification for traffic psychologists. Since many traffic psychologists work in the business or research sectors, licensure may not be required either. However, traffic psychologists that work with clients in a therapeutic setting are required by law to be licensed in the state in which they practice. Each state has different licensure regulations, so it is advisable to check with the state licensing board for specific requirements.

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