Repeat Drunk Drivers and the Neurobiology of Risk

PAFF_051816_NeurobiologyDUI_newsfeature“I recognize the seriousness of this mistake. I’ve learned from this mistake and will continue learning from this mistake for the rest of my life,” said 22-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps during his first drunk driving sentencing hearing in 2004.

Phelps was convicted of drunk driving again in 2014 after police witnessed him crossing the double yellow line while driving 84 miles per hour in a 45-mph zone. According to police records, Phelps’s blood alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit at the time of his second DUI arrest.

Drunk driving accounts for 35-40% of all driver fatalities in Canada and the United States, and drunk driving crashes kill more than 10,000 Americans every year. One challenge to preventing these needless deaths is stopping repeat DUI offenders: An estimated 30% of DUI offenders will continue to drink and drive,…


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Are Digital Billboards Dangerously Distracting?

PAFF_05042016_BillboardGlance_newsfeatureDigital ads use bright lights, rotating images, and flashy content to get your attention, but do they take your eyes (and your mind) off the road long enough to create a hazard?

Digital billboards — dynamic, electronically illuminated, light emitting diode (LED) advertisements — are a rapidly growing section of the marketing industry. One look around Times Square and you’ll understand why: The billboards are shiny, interesting, and attention-grabbing. We often can’t help but look at them.

On the road, these advertising structures stand far above the ground, rotating through ads approximately every 8–10 seconds and marketing various companies, organizations, and products in a single space. These digital billboards are inventive and visually attractive — so much that they may cause drivers to take their eyes off the road.

A team from the New England University Transportation Center & MIT AgeLab recently…


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Negative People are More Dangerous Drivers

PAFF_041316_NegativeDrivers_newsfeatureNeurotic, negative people – think Larry David or George Costanza – are more dangerous behind the wheel, according to new research from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

Previous research has found a correlation between angry and neurotic personalities, aggression, and an increased incidence of car crashes. But little research has investigated exactly why this is the case. To answer this question, psychological scientist Jing Chai and colleagues examined the brains and behavior of a group of dangerous drivers with a history of traffic violations and crashes.

“Dangerous drivers were found to have higher anger and anxiety traits, but no research has explored whether dangerous drivers process emotional information differently than safe drivers do,” the researchers explain. “Exploring the relationship between dangerous driving and emotional information processing could help us understand the cognitive processing of dangerous drivers.”

One explanation for why…


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The Challenges of Driving While Dyslexic

PAFF_033016_DrivingwithDyslexia_newsfeatureStreet signs are almost as old as roads themselves. Evidence for road signs goes at least as far back as ancient Rome, where milestones along roads were inscribed with information to help travelers navigating their way across the huge Roman Empire. Since the invention of the automobile, drivers have been lobbying for ways to make road signs easier to read at highway speeds.

In 1895, the Italian Touring Club kicked off the call for better European road signs, and in 1905 the state of New York began systematically installing road signs throughout in the US. Virtually no research went into ensuring that these early road signs were actually legible for drivers.

In the United States, the Federal Highway Administration has approved the use of a handful of typefaces for use on official road signage. The most commonly used typeface on American highways…


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Do Medical Dramas Inhibit Reckless Driving?

This is a photo of doctors and nurses attending to a patient on a gurney in a hospital.

Research on “risk-glorifying media exposure” has shown that movies like The Fast and the Furious can encourage risk-taking behavior, especially for teenagers. But can certain media reduce risky adolescent driving?

In a new article, social scientist Kathleen Beullens (Leuven School for Mass Communication Research, Belgium) and psychological scientist Nancy Rhodes (The Ohio State University) discuss cultivation theory and how television can build a new reality in adolescents’ minds — one in which they may feel more or less comfortable taking risks.

“Cultivation theory posits that the media, particularly…


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