How to Identify and Change Thrill Seeking Driver Behaviours

What is Thrill Seeking?

When someone overtakes on a bend or accelerates to race someone at the traffic lights, we often find that kind of behaviour hard to understand. From a psychological perspective, there is a science behind thrill seeking as a behavioural tendency in-built within certain personalities.

Thrill seeking can be defined as sensation seeking behind the wheel and it is more often associated with crashes amongst young males in particular. Thrill seeking creates an increase in excitement amongst certain individuals and this has effects on the body and the brain. Many studies have shown that the sensation seeking component of personality is related to taking various risks in pursuing dangerous sports and leading a risky lifestyle such as increased alcohol consumption, drug use and unsafe sex.

Thrill seeking can release adrenaline, endorphins and dopamine, offering the person partaking in fast driving a natural ‘high’ or rush via hormones such as adrenaline. Adrenaline increases heart rate, oxygen to the lungs, blood supply to the muscles, and promotes the supply of glucose for immediate energy. Endorphins, our natural pain killers, can be released along with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter bringing the brain to full attention to improve concentration, it speeds up nerve impulses in the brain that control muscle contractions.

The advantages of this cocktail of chemicals for a thrill seeker include increased muscle strength, a higher pain threshold, and increased awareness and focus on any immediate threat. However, it can also bring about poor decision-making, loss of fine or complex motor skills and reduce the visual field, due to a reduction of oxygen reaching the optic nerve as the brain sends oxygen to large muscle groups. Extreme risk taking could have a profound physical effect on the body. Coupled with a driver who lacks experience and who has a poor perception of risk, thrill seeking can be particularly dangerous.

How Thrill Seeking Increases Driver Risk

Thrill Seeking as measured via DriverMetrics Profiling assesses sensation seeking behaviour specifically when driving. Several studies have been conducted on the DriverMetrics Thrill Seeking factor. The research has shown that convicted drivers and crash involved drivers have higher Thrill Seeking scores and relationships with dangerous behaviours have been found, especially violations and high speed driving (Matthews, et al 1996). Thrill Seeking has also been found to predict traffic offences (Dorn & Matthews, 1995; Qu et al, 2016). The DriverMetrics Thrill Seeking factor has also been administered to fleet drivers and studies have found associations with crash involvement and motorway speeding (Öz et al, 2010). For professional drivers, Dorn (2005) also found that drivers who crossed the roadway division at potentially unsafe locations scored significantly higher on Thrill Seeking in a driving simulator-based study.

These findings suggest that Thrill Seeking may be dependent on a variety of factors, including enjoyment of risk and risk-taking and may reflect a deeper-lying motivation influencing drivers’ attitudes, motives and information processing. This in turn can influence the propensity to commit driving violations and, ultimately, increase the risk of crash involvement.

How to Reduce Thrill Seeking Tendencies

The first step in reducing the risk to your drivers, other road users and pedestrians is to accurately identify which drivers are most vulnerable to thrill seeking behind the wheel via DriverMetrics Profiling, our online risk assessment.

Once you know which drivers have a tendency towards thrill seeking in your fleet, you can do something about it. The key here is a to change the driver’s mindset, which in turn can have a positive impact on their behaviour.

For example, changing perception of risk can lead to a change in thrill seeking behaviour. Thrill seekers can also be encouraged to adopt different strategies to get their ‘fix’, including learning to express their thrill seeking needs on a racetrack, rather than when driving for work.

At DriverMetrics we advocate a self-reflective, coaching-led approach to replacing high risk driver behaviours, such as thrill seeking, with more positive actions when on the road. We do so via eLearning, workshops and face to face coaching, all of which have been shown to be effective in improving fleet safety.