Reduce Risky Driving with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Distraction mitigation techniques like mindfulness are looming as essential to save lives on our roads especially among young drivers who have high rates of addiction to technology, and who overestimate their ability to multitask and underestimate the dangers of driver distraction.” – Kristie Young
Driving is one of the riskiest behaviors that we engage in even though we believe it to be safe. Nearly 17,000 people in the U.S. die in automobile accidents each year. Beyond the inherent danger of driving, risk is markedly increased by risky decisions while driving. These include speeding, drunk driving, distracted driving, impulsive or aggressive driving, and emotional driving. Mindfulness may be helpful as mindfulness increases attention and emotion regulation and decreases impulsivity and aggression. But there has been little research on the effectiveness of mindfulness training in reducing risky driving.
In today’s Research News article “Repeat Traffic Offenders Improve Their Performance in Risky Driving Situations and Have Fewer Accidents Following a Mindfulness-Based Intervention.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.567278/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1547234_69_Psycho_20210204_arts_A ) Baltruschat and colleagues recruited online adult drivers and obtained self-report records of traffic violations. They identified repeat offenders as drivers who reported multiple instances of risky driving and randomly separated them into a mindfulness and control groups. The mindfulness group met for 3 hours once a week for 5 weeks and received mindfulness training modelled after the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. All participants were measured before and after training for emotion regulation, cognitive emotion regulation, and risky driving behavior in a driving simulator when confronted with high-risk scenarios.
They found that after training the mindfulness trained repeat offenders had significantly better driving performance in the simulator and fewer simulated accidents resulting from high-risk simulation scenarios than either the non-trained repeat offenders or non-repeat offenders. There were no significant differences found in emotion regulation.
These are interesting results. But it must be recognized that the driving simulator is an artificial environment and the risk scenarios did not involve real risk. So, it is not clear that the present results predict driving behavior in the real world. There are a number of possible explanations for the improvement in driving behavior produced by mindfulness training. The lack of significant effects on emotion regulation in the present study was surprising but may indicate that improvement in the individual’s ability to work with their emotions is not how mindfulness improves driving. It remains for future research to investigate other possible mechanisms such as impulsivity, aggression, or attentional effects.
Regardless, mindfulness training appears to reduce risk taking behavior and may produce better drivers. Such training, incorporated into traditional driver training courses, may reduce accident rates and deaths on the roads. Future research should investigate this possibility.
So, reduce risky driving with mindfulness.
“individuals who engage in mindfulness are less likely to text and drive; a crucial statistic seeing as the National Safety Council reports that cell phone use while driving kills more than 3,000 people each year.” – SBG-TV
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Baltruschat S, Mas-Cuesta L, Cándido A, Maldonado A, Verdejo-Lucas C, Catena-Verdejo E and Catena A (2021) Repeat Traffic Offenders Improve Their Performance in Risky Driving Situations and Have Fewer Accidents Following a Mindfulness-Based Intervention. Front. Psychol. 11:567278. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.567278
Risky decision-making is highly influenced by emotions and can lead to fatal consequences. Attempts to reduce risk-taking include the use of mindfulness-based interventions (MBI), which have shown promising results for both emotion regulation (ER) and risk-taking. However, it is still unclear whether improved emotion regulation is the mechanism responsible for reduced risk-taking. In the present study, we explore the effect of a 5-week MBI on risky driving in a group of repeat traffic offenders by comparing them with non-repeat offenders and repeat offenders without training. We evaluated the driving behavior of the participants through a driving simulation, and self-reported emotion regulation, both before and after the intervention. At baseline, poor emotion regulation was related to a more unstable driving behavior, and speeding. The group that received mindfulness training showed improved performance during risky driving situations and had fewer accidents, although their overall driving behavior remained largely unchanged. The observed trend toward improved emotion regulation was not significant. We discuss whether other effects of MBI – such as self-regulation of attention – could underlie the observed reduction in risky driving in the initial stages. Nonetheless, our findings still confirm the close relationship between emotion regulation skills and risky driving.