Make driving more dangerous, urges psychology professor

In a new study, only 13 percent of motorists are classified as “safe and slow” with a third of drivers being ““easily bored and dangerous”. Given this, no amount of training or punishments will change driver behaviour so in order to protect cyclists and pedestrians from dangerous drivers, a Newcastle University psychology professor urges planners to make roads bendier with more obstacles.

Boredom is provoking as many as a third of drivers to take unnecessary risks at the wheel, a new study has found.

Researchers at Newcastle University found that drivers who didn’t find the highways taxing enough were more prone to speeding or overtaking as they sought excitement. As a result the researchers suggest that making roads more complicated by building in more obstacles could actually make them safer.

The study of 1,563 drivers published today in Transportation Planning and Technology [PDF], highlights to planners that efforts to make roads “safer” – such as making roads straighter and removing trees – could unintentionally provoke more accidents as people may take risks to liven up their journey.

In the study, interviewed drivers were put into four groups. The first category, made up of nearly a third of drivers included those who are “easily bored, nervous and dangerous” – those more likely to have an accident. While, perhaps unsurprisingly, more younger drivers came into this category, more women were also found to be in this group looking for driving thrills.

The largest group, making up 35 percent of the driving population, are described as “enthusiastic”. The Newcastle University researchers found that they were less likely to have a crash because they find driving more challenging or intrinsically interesting. This kind of motorist enjoys driving, is calmer and  is therefore less likely to have an accident.

21 percent were found to “drive slowly and dislike driving”. While unlikely to get fined for speeding they also drove the least. The smallest group – just 13 percent of motorists – were labelled as “safe and slow”.

Lead researcher Dr Joan Harvey found those in the “bored and dangerous group” to be “less agreeable” as people. Those who were found to be “safe and slow” were generally happier and more positive about life in general.

Dr Harvey said: “It would be nice to think that we could train people to be better drivers but we think that those people who would most benefit from training are the least likely to take part. So we’ve considered the other options and contrary to what you might expect when driving, hazards can actually increase our attention to the road so this may well be the way forward for planners.

“We may need to start considering some radical schemes such as putting bends back into roads or introducing the concept of shared space as it would force motorists to think about their driving and pedestrians to think about cars.”

The Newcastle research team asked 1,563 UK drivers aged 17-years-old upwards to complete a questionnaire about their driving style and personality. They were also asked to estimate the speed they would drive on four different road types. This information formed the basis for identifying clusters of people as drivers based on their boredom levels. These boredom-based clusters were then compared in terms of age, sex, personality, attitude, emotions and accident and offence data.

Edmund King, president of the AA, Visiting Professor of Transport at Newcastle University and a mountain biker, said:

“As cars come fitted with more gadgets to make driving easier and planners remove more of the distractions it comes as no surprise to me that people are finding the pleasure of driving has become rather a chore. With that comes an increase in the risks drivers take as they mentally switch-off instead of focussing on the road.”


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