This research focused on the influence of imaginary passengers on drivers' estimation of the probability of having an accident in traffic situations. Participants had to imagine riding a motorcycle with either a son or a workmate as a passenger. Their task was to assess the risk of accident in a set of traffic scenarios. Risk perception was a function of sex and type of passenger. Women perceived higher risk when the passenger was a son than when a workmate. In contrast, men's estimations were rather the same for both passengers. The emotional significance of the consequences of the accident (losing a son vs. losing a workmate) modulate the perception of probability of having an accident. Finally, these results could help in designing more effective campaigns promoting road safety. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.