Speed and Driving Excitement

Dr Lisa Dorn examines the research evidence relating to speed and driving excitement:

Speed not only adversely affects the severity of the outcome in the event of a crash, it is also a major contributor to crash involvement itself. In a study on the M1, crash rates were found to increase with greater within lane speed variations, especially at higher traffic volumes. Higher speeds coupled with greater volume and high between-lanes speed variation was found to increase crashes related to lane changing or overtaking manoeuvres. Overtaking manoeuvres tend to be more frequent under high speed conditions and if manoeuvres are combined with higher speed differences between the lanes, more side impacts may occur (Choudhary et al, 2018). Driving at a consistent stable speed as much as possible is therefore a good safety goal. However, it is well known that some drivers have an increased tendency to speed, create greater speed variability in the traffic around them and are therefore more likely to be involved in a crash. So what are the main characteristics that predict individual differences in speed choice?

Sensation seeking is the tendency to search for varied, novel, complex and intense sensations. People high on sensation seeking tend to underestimate risks and are more willing to take risks – or even see them as challenges. This sensation seeking tendency can also be observed amongst drivers. Risk taking drivers wishing to experience the thrill of an adrenalin rush by driving too fast for the conditions is all too common. Competitive driving behaviours can also be observed amongst thrill seekers, including the desire to overtake, outmanoeuvre other road users, rev their engines at the traffic lights and harsh accelerate to beat the drivers at the lights with them. These are clearly undesirable driving traits and need to be identified and managed for road safety reasons.

Drivers with these excitement seeking tendencies can be identified using the Thrill Seeking Scale of the Driver Risk Index™. Previous research has shown that high scores on this scale is associated with enjoyment of danger, risk taking and excessive speed. Drivers scoring high also overtake more often and take greater risks during these overtakes by driving closer to other vehicles (Dorn, 2005; Emo et al, 2016). For drivers at work, the Driver Risk Index™ Thrill Seeking scale has been found to be the strongest predictor of all risky driving behaviours, including speed (Wishart et al, 2017).

Addressing individual differences in speed choice aims to promote safety by encouraging Thrill Seekers to maintain a consistent speed. At DriverMetrics® we assess Thrill Seeking tendencies using the validated Driver Risk Index™ and use the profile results for the delivery of bespoke behavioural interventions to manage driving excitement seeking characteristics. Our case studies show that using this approach leads to improved safety for fleet drivers.


Choudhary, P. et al (2018). Impacts of speed variations on freeway crashes by severity and vehicle type Accident Analysis and Prevention, 121, 213–222.

Dorn, L. (2005). Professional driver training and driver stress: Effects on simulated driving performance. In G. Underwood., (Ed) Traffic and Transport Psychology, Elsevier: Amsterdam. Emo, A. K., Matthews, G., & Funke, G. (2016). The slow and the furious: Anger, stress and risky passing in simulated traffic congestion. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 42, 1-14.

Wishart, D., Somoray, K., & Rowland, B. (2017). Role of thrill and adventure seeking in risky work- related driving behaviours. Personality and Individual Differences, 104, 362-367.