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Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s Laura Higgins: Speeding knows no age or gender boundaries

Allie Johnson

When you’re behind the wheel on the open road with no cops watching, do you stick to the speed limit? Drivers in two states – Texas and Washington – agreed to let researchers install GPS devices in their cars to find out whether they would break or obey the law.

Laura Higgins, an associate research scientist at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, which conducted the study, steers toward answers about why drivers speed and don’t speed.

So, who speeds? Does everyone do it sometimes?

The study showed speeding is a very complex behavior. While young men might be a little more likely to speed than older women, it was really a combination of factors that led people to speed.

One factor was the driver’s attitude about speed limits. How did that affect speeding?

We divided participants into two groups: one made up of people who had done the least speeding, and the other of people who had done the most speeding.

In the low-speeding group, more people viewed the speed limit as the hard ceiling – you do not go above that. Or, if you discover you’re going faster, you immediately reduce your speed. People in this group talked about wanting to save fuel, to be cautious and to allow plenty of time to get someplace.

In the high-speeding group, people tended to view a speed limit more as a guideline. A couple of people jokingly said, “If that’s the speed limit, you should be going at least that fast.” Drivers in this group also talked about the thrill of driving fast, and said they wanted to get places in a hurry.

But it was interesting that we did have a similar mix of women and men, and different ages, in both groups.

Were there different types of speeders?

There were a lot of people who would occasionally speed, inadvertently. They’d get caught up with other traffic and just wouldn’t be paying attention. Then there were other people who would speed pretty much anytime they thought they could get away with it.

Does the vehicle you drive matter? For example, is a minivan driver less likely to speed than a sports car driver?

We studied drivers in both College Station, Texas, which has a lot of rural roads, and in Seattle, Washington, which is urban. In Seattle, people who drove a standard family passenger car were a little more likely to speed than people driving other types of vehicles. In Texas, people who were driving a sports car or truck were a little more likely to speed.

Did you find a link between personality type and speeding?

The people who did more speeding were not more angry or aggressive. But more of them reported that they’d get impatient on the road. They were more likely to try to get around other drivers, and to exhibit other aggressive driving behaviors like tailgating the car in front of them. The people who were habitual speeders, who would speed a lot on all of their trips, tended to be a little more Type A.

In what situations did people speed or not speed?

Some people were more likely to speed on a longer trip because they felt it would save them a significant amount of time. And quite a few people said they were less likely to speed if they had passengers, especially their children or their parents.

Did people ever speed just because cars around them were going fast?

Occasionally. That could be social pressure from other drivers, or the safety factor. Some people said, “If everyone else is going 10 miles faster than me, maybe I should speed up so no one runs into me.”

How well do anti-speeding measures, such as speed traps, work?

When you have police with radar guns or electronic signs that show the speed limit and your current speed, a lot of people say that reminds them to slow down at the moment, but a little bit later they’ll have forgotten all about it.

Are there other measures that would work better to stop speeding?

Drivers in our study said some sort of in-vehicle display of the speed limit and their current speed might be more effective. Instead of getting a reminder to watch your speed every few miles or only in certain parts of your city, you’d be getting that feedback all the time. I could see that as a viable possibility in the future to encourage people to watch their speed and maybe improve other driving behaviors as well.


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