Young drivers are redefining safe and fun driving

This column published as "Generation Gap" in October 2021 issue

David Matthews / October 05, 2021 / 3 minute read
David Matthews

Do you experience agitation or rage while driving, including aggressive outbursts or one-finger salutes? You may be suffering from “accelerousal.”

While it may sound like a sexual dysfunction, accelerousal is actually the clinical term for stress provoked by acceleration events.

Accelerousal is the root of road rage, and according to researchers at the University of Houston, it may be genetic.

To determine how acceleration triggers drivers, researchers monitored 11 people driving a minivan for 30 minutes along the same course, watching for involuntary signs of physiological stress.

At the same time, a computer within the car tracked the vehicle’s acceleration, speed, brake force, and steering.

Researchers found that while half of the drivers stayed calm during the entire drive, the other half showed “peaked stress” during common acceleration events, like stopping at a red light or merging onto a highway.

These “acceleroused” drivers registered 50% more stress during their drives than calm drivers, and afterward reported feeling much more exhausted and overloaded.

Researchers believe that because these accelerousal responses were so consistent, they are likely innate characteristics that some of us are born with.

Finally, proof that I can’t just “calm down.”

In no rush

Dealing with aggressive drivers is just one reason why one-third of teens have chosen not to get a driver’s license.

Data from the Federal Highway Administration shows that Generation Z has amplified a trend that began with Millennials.

In 2018, about 61% of 18-year-olds in the U.S. had a driver’s license, down from 80% in 1983. During that same period, the number of 16-year-olds with licenses dropped from 46% to 25%.

Teens have a myriad of reasons for skipping this rite of passage: some prefer more environmentally friendly transportation options, some find it cheaper to use rideshare services like Uber, and some find driving too stressful.

Automakers now face the challenge of designing new vehicles for a generation that isn’t even sure if they want one.

Better tech is what will win over teens, Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, told Fox News. “I think what is important to them is staying connected in a safe way.”

General Motors president Mark Reuss said he believes that appearances are just as important as tech for young drivers.

“You still have to deliver connectivity in something people love to look at and be seen in,” he said. “They still want a great-looking car, great-looking interior, and have fun driving it.”

Stimulus check

New research has validated what teens have known for decades: the safest driving is done with caffeine and rap music.

UK-based behavioral science consultancy CX Lab and car insurance company U Switch collaborated to measure driver reaction times under various conditions.

Researchers showed the participants a series of “hazard perception” videos and asked them to click a button upon spotting a hazard.

After establishing a baseline reaction time, the participants were asked to complete the test again under one of the following conditions:

  • Driving 20 minutes after drinking a strong cup of coffee
  • Driving while listening to audio of noisy children
  • Driving while listening to rap, techno, heavy metal, classical, jazz, or R&B music

Not surprisingly, coffee had the biggest effect, helping drivers traveling at 70 mph stop an average of 26 yards earlier than the baseline average.

The second strongest factor was music. Rap had the largest impact of the six music genres tested, helping drivers stop 16 yards earlier.

Surprisingly, the sound of noisy children also improved reaction times by 14 yards.

The least effective stimulus was R&B music, which actually worsened reaction times by 4 yards.

Beyoncé, your music usually helps me thrive / But the sound of kids fighting keeps me safer when I drive.

About the Author

Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news since 2000. The stories are all true.

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