Fact & Folly – Studies on Driving

A car behind me honked its horn and I noticed that I had slowed down to under thirty miles an hour.  It occurred to me that with clever gadgetry you could easily chart the emotional state of a driver from his variations in speed and aggression at the wheel. 

I considered the idea of cars having sensors installed which would pick up driving inconsistencies and calculate their cause by reference to some electronic table compiled by a competent psychologist.  The data collected from this table would then send signals to a display on the roof.

‘Attention! The driver of this car has just had a terrible row with his wife.’

‘This driver is besotted with his new mistress.’

‘This driver is in a foul bate after being unable to find his spectacles this morning.’

‘This driver is in an even, equatable temper.’ ” 

I was convinced, as that retired police commissioner used to say, that it would constitute a major contribution to road safety.”

    – Stephen Fry, The Hippopotamus


Even in a work of fiction it appears our driving habits are an issue.  I simply love the gadget idea as described by Mr. Fry, particularly the bit about having a sensor that picks up on driving inconsistencies.  If only it were so easy!

A few years ago a research group conducted a study on VPD officers.  On duty officers were hooked up to heart rate and blood pressure monitors, the readings of which were recorded over the course of the entire shift.  As expected, heart rate and blood pressure went up, sometimes way up, when officers responded to a priority call and readings remained elevated for quite some time afterwards.  I touched on this earlier this year when I attended a medical checkup thirty minutes after being involved in a pursuit.  Even though I felt relaxed and calm, my blood pressure was still elevated. 

I wonder what Fry’s gadget above my police car would have said?

A study I would like to see is one where the eye movements of police officers are measured to try and get a read on how much of the road in front of them they scan.  I know I’m constantly scanning the road ahead of my vehicle looking out for everything from other drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, obstacles and suspects.  My scanning goes into overdrive when driving Code Three, where my safety, the safety of other people on the road and the safety of the citizens I’m trying to help is paramount – I’m no use to anyone if I don’t make it to the call because I’ve been involved in an accident.

Then I’d like to see the study compared to a similar one of drivers with a high-crash ratio.  What don’t those drivers see?  Are they really only looking at the ten foot section of road directly in front of their vehicle? Are they looking at their mp3 player, cell phone or the pretty woman/handsome man on the sidewalk? Or do they sit hunched over their steering wheel staring at the bumper of the car in front of them, completely oblivious to everything around them?

Inquiring minds would like to know.

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