By Hannelore Sudermann
There's something about youth and speed and cars.
Criminal justice doctoral student Yu-Sheng Lin tapped into it in his study of risky and aggressive driving behaviors. Surveying Washington State University students, who averaged the age of 19, he joined up with marketing graduate student Mark Mulder and associate professor Jeffrey Joireman to look at the effects of impulsivity and thrill-seeking on dangerous driving. They also examined whether the drivers considered future consequences when making their choices on the road.
Aggressive driving is likely the last crime to be featured on a television drama, Lin admits. "But I wanted to focus on something that can apply to everyone. It happens every day, but it can also be considered criminal behavior."
About a third of all accidents, and close to 67 percent of the resulting fatalities, can be linked to aggressive driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Lin asked survey subjects if they drive over the speed limit in clear weather (risky behavior) and if they let people know when they are unhappy with their driving (aggressive behavior).
The team focused on three low self-control personality traits—impulsivity, sensation-seeking, and anger—and consideration of future consequences. Then they looked at how the personality traits are associated with deviant behaviors.
The trait that has been perhaps the most studied lately is sensation-seeking, says Joireman. People who climb mountains and do other dangerous sports are sensation-seekers, he says. "The problem comes when people try to solve those needs in socially unacceptable ways."
This issue is very important to the state, says Washington State Trooper Bruce Blood, one of the better-known officers on the Palouse—if only because he is seen so often handing out tickets. In recent years, in response to citizen complaints, the state assigned unmarked vehicles to several troopers, including Blood. In a white patrol car, you just don't see it, he says. But in his Dodge Charger, the state officer sees things even he doesn't believe: passing on blind corners, speeds exceeding 90 miles per hour. Blood collaborated with the WSU team in hopes of furthering efforts to reduce dangerous driving.
Using self-control theory and a general aggression model, Lin's study shows that more could be done to curb aggressive driving. He determined that the consideration of future consequences could reduce impulsivity, though it didn't do much to limit sensation-seeking.
The key is to help drivers recognize they have low self-control and recognize the aggressive behavior when it starts and before it becomes dangerous, says Lin. Lin made the study a component in his dissertation. After completing his doctorate this spring, he is headed to a faculty position at National Taipei University in Taiwan.
Mulder and Joireman are examining ways to identify and reach drivers with low self-control before they get on the road.
"This information is invaluable," says Blood. "It shows that just enforcement isn't enough; you have to have education and enforcement combined. The biggest thing is for drivers to recognize the behavior in themselves when it starts to occur."
© Washington State Magazine (Fall 2009). Reprinted with permission.
The Chronicle, College of Liberal Arts, Washington State University