Driving under the influence of … stress

April 7, 2009 by  
Filed under STRESS

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drivingWe are not supposed to drive when we are under the influence of alcohol or certain drugs. But what about driving while under stress? You may think that stress and driving actually go together in one package. Tell that to the people driving to and from work everyday during rush hour. Tell that to the person standing still in a gridlock. Tell that to the mom who has to shuttle her little kids to and from school, to football practice, and so on.

But sometimes major events can drastically increase stress and anxiety levels that will in turn have adverse effects on performing daily routines, including driving. With serious consequences.

One of the most traumatic and stressful experience that Americans have had in recent years is the September 11 terrorist attacks. The incident had such long lasting effects on people’s psyche that researchers are just discovering now, 8 years later.

Psychologist Alexander J. Rothman and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota analyzed records obtained from the US Department of Transportation to see if there was any relation between geographic location and the rate of fatal traffic accidents that occurred in the three months immediately following the September 11 terrorist attacks… The authors found that there was an increase in the rate of traffic fatalities in the three months following the 9/11 attacks, but only in the Northeast, the region closest to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. A follow-up analysis showed that there was a significant increase in the rate of traffic fatalities in the months following September 11 in the state of New York. This pattern of findings is consistent with the premise that stress-related reductions in the quality of driving led to a spike in the rate of fatal traffic accidents.

The findings of the study indicate that living close to the location of a highly traumatic event leads to increased psychological stress. In turn, psychological stress can impair a person’s driving ability, an impairment that can lead to serious, even fatal traffic accidents. There is therefore a need to re-examine what we know about stress and driving. In addition, psychologists will be able to anticipate behavioural patterns in response to traumatic experiences. The results of the study have been published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

I cannot drive effectively when I am under stress, even it is not necessarily due to a major traumatic experience. The stress of work and family responsibilities can sometimes be too much. That is why I prefer to take the public transport. Less stress, less damage to the environment.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

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2 Responses to “Driving under the influence of … stress”
  1. Change_act says:

    So what this study aims to do is basically help drivers recognize the importance of avoiding driving while under stress. I’ve seen infomercials on this subject in drug rehab NC. Motorists commonly put themselves under unnecessary pressure to arrive quickly at their destination, so simple things like pre-planning your trip or allowing more time to travel can greatly reduce stress levels and help ensure drivers arrive safely. It is important to recognize that being anxious can affect driving ability in the same way as taking your eyes off the road or talking on a mobile phone.

  2. John says:

    Stress can cause a lot of problems and it is something we all know, felt and will feel. I remember one time when I had to visit several Drug rehab centers in Massachusetts and I was always on the road with the car. The amount of stress I had those three days is incomparable, the last day I had some very serious problem with driving, I started to be disoriented and feel weak. Fortunately everything went well and I had no accidents or unpleasant situations on the road.

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