Psychological Science Gets Behind the Wheel at NHTSA

PAFF_012716_BehindWheelNHTSA_newsfeatureLast week psychological scientists from around the U.S. gathered in Washington, D.C. to discuss innovative behavioral research that will be used to save thousands of lives. Over 200 million Americans drive a car on any given day, and each year around 30,000 Americans lose their lives in car crashes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is one of the government agencies tasked with finding ways to keep drivers safe. The newest head of NHTSA, Administrator Mark Rosekind, is an accomplished psychological scientist recognized for his innovative research on human fatigue and performance.

“Behavioral safety programs are the heart of NHTSA’s safety mission,” said Rosekind said in a press release. “While great public attention is focused on safety defects and recalls, and rightfully so, it is time as a nation to reinvigorate the fight against drunk and drugged driving, distraction and…


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Driving With a Hangover Just as Dangerous as Driving Drunk

PAFF_123115_Hangovers_newsfeature_streamersDriving home with a hangover may be just as dangerous as driving after too many glasses of champagne, according to a sobering new study.

A team of researchers, led by Utrecht University psychopharmacologist Joris Verster, found that even when drivers’ blood alcohol levels returned to zero the morning after a night of partying, they showed the same degree of driving impairment as drivers who were intoxicated.

“The hangover develops when blood alcohol concentration (BAC) returns to zero and is characterized by a feeling of general misery that may last up to 20 hours after alcohol consumption,” the researchers write. “The magnitude of driving impairment during alcohol hangover is comparable to a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08 %, i.e., over the legal limit for driving in many countries.”

For their study, the researchers recruited a group of 48 volunteers (24 men and 24…


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Can DUI Checkpoints Change Perceptions of the Police?

PAFF_121715_DUIandPolicing_newsfeatureNew Year’s Eve is near, and police will be especially vigilant about pulling over drivers they suspect of being drunk. While traffic stops pop up more frequently around holidays, they actually represent the most common interaction that people have with police and highway patrol officers on any given day of the year.

The US Department of Justice reports that in 2011, 86% of people’s most recent contact with the police was during a traffic stop. And a disproportionate number of those pulled over and searched were black, contributing to the public perception of racial bias within law enforcement.

Too often these routine interactions between police and the public spiral out of control: According to the Justice Department report, 6% of drivers pulled over in traffic stops in 2011 experienced some type of police force used against them, from shouting and cursing,…


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Risky Business: Teens Brains Behind the Wheel

PAFF_120915_TeenBrainsDrivingRisk_newsfeatureTeen drivers are notorious for their bad decisions behind the wheel. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, the risk of car crashes is higher among 16-19-year-olds than among any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, teen drivers are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.

You might think that a more developmentally mature brain would guarantee more sensible decision-making in teen drivers, but a new study suggests just the opposite. A team of researchers from the University of Turku in Finland, led by Victor Vorobyev, found that teens more prone to risky behavior in a driving simulation game actually showed signs of more advanced brain maturation.

Evidence suggests that the brain structures that process feelings of reward mature faster than neural circuits involved in planning ahead and assessing…


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Why the Drive Home Really Does Feel Shorter

PAFF_112415_ShortRouteHome_newsfeatureThe traffic snarls caused by holiday travel can keep people stuck on the road for hours. But if the trip home from the holidays feels shorter than the trip out, you’re not alone: People often experience the ride home as being a shorter duration than the ride out, even when the distances are exactly the same.

Psychological scientist Niels van de Ven (Tilburg University) and his colleagues noticed this as they were traveling to scientific conferences and wondered if there was anything to this “return trip effect.”

“Similar to our own experiences, participants felt that a return trip effect occurs frequently,” the researchers explain.

Over three experiments the researchers found that the return trip effect is quite large: Participants reported the return trip as being up to 22% shorter than the initial trip. Their experiments suggest that our negative expectations about a…


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