WAY back in 2010, satnav maker TomTom had an advertising campaign for its traffic alert system.

The slogan it came up with was: “You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.”

It was a clever message at the time and it still resonates.

It was telling us that you, as an individual, can make a perfectly logical, reasonable decision to get in your car and drive from A to B.

But thousands of other people have also made perfectly logical, reasonable decisions to get in their cars and drive from their particular As to their particular Bs.

Individually, no one has done anything wrong but collectively it becomes a huge problem.

And that’s where we find ourselves with panic buying.

Think back to the start of the pandemic.

We were all warned it was likely to be bad.

We’d seen the images coming out of Wuhan with whole cities in lockdown and from Italy with Covid casualties piling up outside overwhelmed hospitals where doctors were taking ‘battlefield’ decisions not to treat the over 60s.

So yes, we were concerned once the pandemic started spreading in this country.

Were we going to be allowed out of our homes?

Would we be able to get food?

Would the NHS cope?

So individually, we made our perfectly reasonable individual decisions.

With no guarantees about how the pandemic would play out, we wanted to make sure we had at least the basics, so getting hold of pasta, tinned foods and famously toilet rolls became a priority.

It’s not selfishness, it’s not panic buying, it’s a perfectly logical reaction to an unprecedented situation.

But of course, once the supply chain became stretched as a result of increased demand, even those who were perhaps a little more phlegmatic could see the gaps on the shelves and were then forced into making the perfectly logical decision to stock up before the shops were stripped clean.

There is actually a little bit of psychology behind this.

Back at the start of what we all could see was a lethal pandemic, we were told there were some things we could do to make ourselves safer – wash our hands and cough into our arms.

That was it, really.

We weren’t even told to wear masks.

But those simple actions didn’t seem enough in the face of a complex, dangerous situation.

We wanted to feel we were taking real steps to protect ourselves.

We wanted the comfort blanket of taking some action.

So we started stockpiling.

Of course, the just-in-time supply chain couldn’t respond quickly enough, hence the empty shelves.

Which brings us on to petrol, which is a slightly different situation.

Just like Pavlov’s dogs, we’ve become victims of classical conditioning.

At the merest hint of a fuel shortage (a handful of BP petrol stations suffering a short-term closure while waiting to be re-supplied), we responded.

But we’ve learned, we’ve been conditioned.

We knew that if we didn’t act quickly, we could find ourselves without fuel.

For many, that was unthinkable.

We each took the reasonable decision that we couldn’t afford to be without fuel so joined the queues.

And so it goes on.

Hopefully, by the time you read this, the crisis will have worked itself out but don’t for one moment think this is the last time this is going to happen.

What I do find interesting is how people reacted to a steady stream of government ministers telling us not to panic as there wasn’t a shortage of fuel.

Their words which should have calmed us and reassured us seemed to have exactly the opposite effect, sparking even more panic buying.

Perhaps after years and years of the government being ‘economical with the truth’ we’ve finally reached the point where people actually don’t trust what the government tells us.