What is Thrill Seeking in the Context of Driving?

This is the first in a series of three blog posts that examines thrill seeking tendencies and driver behaviour. You can also read part 2 and part 3.

In the driving for work context, there are three major facets of fleet driver Psychology and driver behaviour that may increase the risk of crash involvement.

  • Given the demands of driving for work, driver stress may be an outcome of long hours spent driving under pressure and in difficult driving conditions. There are differing consequences for fleet driver behaviour, including increased anxiety, worry, anger and fatigue.
  • There are strong individual differences in vulnerability to driver stress.  Some fleet drivers may experience high levels of stress even in routine familiar driving conditions, whereas others remain calm and untroubled during even the most adverse traffic environments and situations dependent on the use of effective coping strategies.
  •  Thirdly, personality factors may influence the way a fleet driver behaves behind the wheel. There are many personality characteristics that may influence driving style but one of the main ones is Thrill Seeking.

Thrill Seeking as measured by the Fleet Driver Risk Index™ is a personality-based driving-related factor associated with Sensation Seeking. Research on the general personality characteristic of Sensation Seeking has discovered that some individuals have a greater socio-biological need for stimulation than others. Sensation Seeking has therefore been defined as “the seeking of varied, complex and  novel sensations and experiences and the willingness to take physical, social, legal, and financial risks for the sake of such experiences” (Zuckerman, 1994, p. 27). Many studies have shown that this component of personality is related to taking various risks in pursuing dangerous sports and leading a risky lifestyle such as alcohol and drug use and unsafe sex.

Many researchers thought that this personality characteristic could well ‘spill over’ into the car and that the urge to increase arousal levels may be associated with risky decision making. The link between Sensation Seeking and risky driving had been well documented and in 1997 a review of 40 studies was published showing that Sensation Seeking was correlated with various measures of risky driving (Jonah, 1997).

Given the mounting evidence base for the relationship between Sensation Seeking and risky driving, research to develop a more bespoke personality-based driving-related measure of Sensation Seeking called Thrill Seeking began in the early 1990’s (Dorn,1992). Thrill Seeking is one of the Fleet Driver Risk Index™ factors and research on how this scale has been validated will now be presented.


Dorn, L. (1992) Individual and GroupDifferences in Driving Behaviour. PhD thesis. Aston University.

Dorn, L, & Matthews, G. (1995). Prediction of mood and risk appraisals from trait measures: Two studies of simulated driving.  European Journal of Personality, 9, 25-42.

Jonah, B.A. (1997). Sensation seeking and risky driving: a review and synthesis of the literature, Accident Analysis and Prevention 29, 651-665.

Öz B., Özkan T and Lajunen T (2010). Professional and non-professional drivers’ stress reactions and risky driving. Transportation Research Part F.13, 32-40.

Matthews, G., Desmond, P. A., Joyner, L., Carcary, B., & Gilliland, K. (1996). Validation of the Driver Stress Inventory and the Driver Coping Questionnaire. Unpublished report. Also presented at the International Conference on Traffic and Transport Psychology, Valencia, Spain, 1996.

Zuckerman, M., 1994. Behavioral Expressions and Biosocial Bases of Sensation Seeking. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.