The Impact of Bad Moods on Driver Risk

Moods can change quickly in response to what is going on in your life and in response to traffic situations and other road users. You may not realize it, but the way you feel can affect how you drive and increase your risk of crash involvement. Research has shown that drivers in a bad mood may be more likely to crash, especially when driving angry or feeling frustrated (Deffenbacher et al, 2003; Hemenway & Solnick, 1993; Parry, 1968; Underwood et al, 1999).

There are two possible reasons why driving in a bad mood might impair driving performance and increase crash risk:-

  1.  Bad moods may change driving style and increase risk taking
  2.  Bad moods may directly impair a drivers’ ability to detect hazards.


Bad Mood and Risk Taking

Irritation is frequently expressed in aggressive and hostile behaviours towards other drivers, such as verbal rebukes, tail-gating and horn-blowing (Parry, 1968). Not surprisingly, such aggressive behaviours are dangerous, and associated with higher accident probabilities. Drivers in a bad mood may be more likely to evaluate the traffic situation harshly, spend less time assessing the situation and be quicker to allocate blame to others. In a recent study in which drivers were impeded by a slower lead vehicle, results showed that drivers are more angered and subsequently more aggressive when the driver of the lead vehicle is of lower status and most likely to belong to the out-group (Stephens & Groeger, under review).

Driving aggression as measured by the Fleet Driver Risk Index™ has been shown to be associated with negative appraisals of other drivers expressed through intimidation tactics such as tailgating. High scores on the Fleet Driver Risk Index™ Driving Aggression factor has also been associated with frequent overtaking, higher frequencies of driving errors and deliberate violations such as speeding (Matthews, 1993; Matthews et al, 1997; Matthews et al, 1998).

Bad Mood impairs Hazard Detection

A bad mood can also impair your ability to detect and respond to hazards. To be a safe driver, an efficient visual search strategy and the ability to detect emerging dangerous situations is essential. Feelings of frustration may lead to a failure to attend to peripheral cues and impair visual search and lead to longer fixating on hazards to the detriment of responding to other hazards (e.g. Chapman & Groeger, 2004; Crundall et al, 2002). In a recent study (Chapman and Walton, in press) frustration seemed to lead to more shallow processing of visual information suggesting that drivers disengage their attention too soon and attend to alternative distractions in the driving scene before they have fully processed all relevant information.

Self-evaluation and e-training

DriverMetrics® offers an e-learning module called ‘Frustrations’ for drivers reporting a significantly high level of driving aggression and frustration in traffic and towards other road users. The module asks drivers to reflect on the circumstances under which they may lose their temper and what they can do to reduce their levels of driver stress. Finding different strategies on how to tackle difficulties and frustrations in traffic often makes drivers feel more in control and less prone to angry outbursts. Understanding your own triggers to outbursts is the first step to controlling your feelings and increasing your tolerance of other road users and traffic situations.

Contact us for a demo of the Fleet Driver Risk Index™ and e-learning.


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Matthews, G., Desmond, P. A., Joyner, L. A. & Carcardy, B. (1997). A comprehensive questionnaire measure of driver stress and affect. In E. Carbonell Vaya and J. A. Rothengatter (Eds), Traffic and Transport Psychology: theory and Application (pp 317-326). Amsterdam: Pergamon Press.

Matthews, G., Dorn, L., Hoyes, T. W., Davies, D. R., Glendon, A. I., & Taylor, R. G. (1998). Driver stress and performance on a driving simulator. Human Factors40, 136-149.

Parry, M. (1968). Aggression on the road. London: Tavistock.

Stephens, A.N., & Groeger, J.A. (under review). Following slower lead drivers: Lead driver status moderates driver’s anger behavioural responses and exonerates culpability.

Underwood, G., Chapman, P., Wright, S., & Crundall, D. (1999). Anger while driving. Transportation Research Part F, 2, 55–68.

Image: CC: Mosman