We recently conducted a survey* to investigate how safe we think we are on the UK’s roads. The survey revealed that only 7% of drivers think their own emotional state has the most negative effect on how they drive. However, we’ve been in touch with some experts to explore how a range of different emotions, positive and negative, can have a significantly dangerous impact on our driving.
According to the survey, nearly two thirds of respondents believe anger has the worst influence on driving safety. Despite this, a staggering 92% admit to feeling angry with other road users at some point when driving.
We spoke with Mike Fisher, founder of The British Association of Anger Management and author of ‘Beating Anger’, to understand more about the adverse impact that anger can have on road safety.
Fisher revealed that being angry can severely cause lack of concentration when driving, and this could “lead you to take your eyes off the road or even have an accident.” He argues that “being hyper armoured or adrenalised does not actually allow you to remain focused and present. It increases your irritability and recedes concentration regarding the task at hand – which is to keep yourself and others safe at all times.”
Our survey revealed that just over a quarter of us sometimes get stressed when driving. We interviewed Neil Shah, director of The Stress Management Society and author of ‘The 10-Step Stress Solution’, who uncovered that being stressed behind the wheel can have an extremely negative impact on how we drive. Despite this, only 19% of people believe that stress has the worst influence on driving safety.
Shah explains that during our fight or flight response, in order for certain resources to be maximised, others need to be minimised. As a result, “this can diminish brain function, as the frontal lobes of our brain can’t get enough oxygenated blood.” If this happens, we can lose our ability to concentrate or our minds can go completely blank. Shah points out that feeling stressed “can cause our driving to become more aggressive and reactive, which means we’re more likely to drive faster, make mistakes and therefore cause accidents.”
Anxiety and nervousness
The survey exposed that nearly 1 in 10 admitted that they often get nervous or fearful whilst driving, with only 4% believing it had the worst influence on driving safety. However, we got in touch with Laura Whitehurst at Anxiety UK, to find out more about how anxiety negatively impacts safe driving.
Whitehurst recognises that “anxiety is our body’s response to a threat and our adrenal system kicking in.” It can result in “rapid heartbeat, palpitations, excess sweating, shaking, ‘jelly legs’, headaches, butterflies in your stomach and many other physical symptoms.” This can obviously be very distracting, frightening and can even lead to panic attacks.
Whitehurst explains that “these intense emotions can cause a person to lose focus on the task at hand, whether it be driving or something else, in an attempt to control their physical symptoms.”
Excitement, happiness and joy
Only 1% of us think excitement has the worst influence on driving safety, with the survey also revealing that none of the respondents considered happiness or joy to have the worst impact on safe driving. However, upon further investigation, it appears that positive emotions can also seriously affect driving ability.
Positive emotions – such as excitement, happiness and joy – are typically triggered before we get into our car. As a result, our minds will be thinking about what has caused us to feel this way. This is identified as a cognitive distraction, and can cause tunnel vision; where we’re lost in our thoughts and stare ahead, without focusing on potential dangers around us.
According to a study¹ from Armitage, Conner and Norman (1999), “positive moods signal that all is well with the world, encouraging risk taking.” Other studies² also support this theory, and indicate that people with positive emotions are more tempted towards risky driving. This could suggest that potentially drivers feeling positive may actually drive more recklessly on the road.
Positive and negative emotions affect us…
An overwhelming majority of people in our survey thought that anger was the emotion that impacted their driving capabilities the most. Other emotions weren’t really considered – in particular the positive emotions drivers experience. However, this research shows that in reality, both positive and negative emotions can have a detrimental effect on driving and could vastly increase the chances of an accident.
This highlights the importance of being aware of what may trigger these emotions, and how to control them. Click here to find out some tips and techniques to help curb your emotions behind the wheel.
*An exclusive survey of 1,094 British drivers conducted online by YouGov for Aviva in conjunction with the Telegraph on 7-9 December 2015