The effects of personality and gender on risky driving behaviour and accident involvement

The effects of personality and gender on risky driving behaviour and accident involvement

Safety Science 44 (2006) 621–628 The effects of personality and gender on risky driving behaviour and accident involvemen...

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Safety Science 44 (2006) 621–628

The effects of personality and gender on risky driving behaviour and accident involvement Sigve Oltedal, Torbjørn Rundmo


Department of Psychology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Dragvoll, 7491 Trondheim, Norway Received 22 March 2005; received in revised form 30 November 2005; accepted 20 December 2005

Abstract The present study investigates the effects of personality traits and gender on risky driving behaviour and accident involvement. A sample of Norwegian adolescents in two Norwegian counties participated (n = 1356). Anxiety was significantly correlated to excitement-seeking and risky driving behaviour, and excitement-seeking was significantly correlated to risky driving behaviour and collisions. Through a regression analysis, personality traits and gender were found to explain 37.3% of the variance in risky driving behaviour. However, the relations were not very strong, and the personality traits did only explain a moderate part of the variance. Possible explanations for this as well as methodological considerations are discussed. Directions for further research are suggested. Ó 2006 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Keywords: Traffic accidents; Risky driving behaviour; Personality; Gender

1. Introduction In Norway, 280 people were killed and 11,760 injured in road traffic accidents in 2003 (StatisticsNorway, 2004). Such accidents differ from other causes of injury or death because they do not differentiate between young and old, sick and healthy. In fact, young healthy people are more likely to be involved in accidents than others. One of four physically injured in accidents on the Norwegian roads is younger than 24 years of age *

Corresponding author. Tel.: +47 73591656; fax: +47 73591920. E-mail address: [email protected] (T. Rundmo).

0925-7535/$ - see front matter Ó 2006 Published by Elsevier Ltd. doi:10.1016/j.ssci.2005.12.003


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(Ulleberg, 2000). Finding means to reduce the number of accidents would be of great benefit for those directly involved as well as for the society at large. The present study investigates how personality traits and gender are related to risky driving and accident involvement in a sample of young Norwegians. In recent years, the researchers have increasingly placed more emphasis on the human factors related to driving (Lajunen, 1997). The relationship between skills, behaviour and accident involvement is complex, and it is a challenge for the psychology to provide a better understanding of how human factors and psychological mechanisms are related to this (Elander et al., 1993). The focus of behavioural traffic safety research has moved from skills and driving abilities towards willingness to take risks (Iversen and Rundmo, 2002). Unsafe drivers are not necessarily those with low skills. Skilled drivers who engage in risky activities like speeding might be even more dangerous. People’s willingness to take risks is widely acknowledged to be an important personality characteristic and virtually all trait taxonomies include some dimension related to this. The great majority have examined the influence of sensation-seeking (Zuckerman, 1994) and excitement-seeking (Costa and McCrae, 1992) on risky driving behaviour (Jonah, 1997). These are different scales to measure the same general concept, namely the people’s willingness to take risks and their tendency to crave stimulation and excitement. The relationship between sensation-seeking and speed is well documented (Arnett et al., 1997; Clement and Jonah, 1984; Zuckerman and Neeb, 1980). Speed level is also related to crash risk (Elander et al., 1993). Ulleberg (2000) found that sensation-seeking characterized a high accident-risk group of young drivers. Arnett et al. (1997) also presented results indicating that sensation-seeking is related to reckless driving among adolescents. Iversen and Rundmo (2002) reported that among Norwegian drivers, those with higher sensationseeking scores reported more risky driving behaviours than low scorers. In general, the majority of research supports the conclusion that sensation-seeking behaviour is related to risky driving. Accordingly, Jonah et al. (2001) found that high sensation seekers were significantly more likely to speed, not wear belts, drink frequently and drive after drinking compared to low sensation seekers. Costa and McCrae (1992) reported that anxiety was significantly related to negative affect. The driver’s level of negative effect might influence his or her interpretation of the traffic environment and driving behaviour. Garrity and Demick (2001) investigated the relationship between the five-factor personality traits and driving behaviour. They found no significant correlations. However, they reported a significant relationship between the mood state tension-anxiety, which is strongly related to neuroticism, and negative driving behaviour. Each of the five traits, neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness, comprises of six more specific traits, or facets. These facets make it possible to identify meaningful individual differences within each trait. Such effects can easily be overlooked if only the main traits are examined (Costa and McCrae, 1992). This multifaceted approach is, according to Costa and McCrae (1992), a crucial advantage to the five factor model since it offers an essential elaboration of the traits. Elander et al. (1993) argue that by using subscales rather than overall scores, more reliable correlations between personality traits and driving behaviour could be obtained. Other personality traits may also influence driving. Driver anger or aggression has been extensively investigated. Deffenbacher et al. (2003) found that high-anger drivers reported more frequent and intense anger and more aggression and risky driving behaviour in daily

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driving. They also reported greater anger in frequently occurring situations, more frequent close calls and higher speed of driving. With the amount of driving being accounted for, high anger drivers were found to be twice as likely to crash and committed 2.4–3.6 times more aggressive acts than low anger drivers. Su¨mer (2003) did a study on professional drivers in Turkey. She found that sensation-seeking and aggression were together predictive of risky driving. Chliaoutakis et al. (2002) reported that driving violations and driver irritability were two factors relevant to aggressive driving. Irritability was found to be a predictor of young driver’s involvement in car crashes. Their analysis suggested that young drivers who get easily irritated and who express hostility or aggression toward other drivers have a greater crash risk. Normlessness has also been hypothesized to be of importance. In a study by Iversen and Rundmo (2002) respondents who scored high on normlessness were involved in more risky driving, accidents and near accidents. They accepted rule violations and did not care whether they broke laws as long as it served a certain goal. Gender has also consistently been reported to relate to risk behaviour, i.e., males are more willing to take risks than females. It has been argued that the evolutionary process has made it necessary for males to take risks and that this tendency therefore is an adaptation (Buss, 2004). In terms of risk behaviour in road traffic, gender differences have been reported by numerous researchers. Yagil (1998) reported male drivers express a lower motivation to comply with traffic rules, particularly the younger individuals. She also found males to perceive traffic violations as less dangerous than did females. Whissell and Bigelow (2003) did a study suggesting that accidents were typically a function of sex. Further, risky driving is a more influential factor in adolescents injuries and deaths among males (Vavrik, 1997). Ulleberg (2000) did a cluster analysis to identify subgroups of risky drivers among adolescents. He reported that males with high sensation seeking scores constituted the majority of one such group. Finally, Rosenbloom and Wolf (2002) reported a risky shift in males detection of danger on the road compared to females. To sum up, the existing evidence clearly suggests that both personality and gender are related, in part strongly, to risky driving behaviour. The aim of the present study is to examine the degree to which such relationships are applicable to a sample of young Norwegian drivers on a number of selected personality traits. The connection between risky driving behaviour and accident involvement will also be investigated. 2. Method 2.1. Sample A questionnaire survey was carried out in 1998–1999. The survey was part of a traffic safety campaign initiated by the Norwegian Authorities of Public Roads in cooperation with the Police Department, the Norwegian Society of Road Safety and the Traffic Safety Committees of two Norwegian counties (Ulleberg, 2000). The respondents were randomly selected from high school classes within these counties. The Questionnaires were completed individually and anonymously while at school. The total samples included 4397 adolescents. Those who had been licensed drivers for three months or more were extracted and selected for the present study. This produced a final sample of 1356 respondents, among which 724 (53.4%) women were and 632 (46.6%) were men. The majority was 18 or 19 years of age.


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2.2. Questionnaire A questionnaire using facets from a Norwegian translation of the NEO Personality Inventory (Costa and McCrae, 1992) was applied to measure excitement-seeking, anxiety, and aggression. The measurement for each facet consists of eight items. Each item is phrased as a statement to which subjects express agreement or disagreement on a five point Likert scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The facets are traits in their own right and can be applied detached from the larger traits. For convenience, all personality variables included in the present study are referred to as traits. Measures of normlessness were adopted from Kohn and Schooler (1983), while The Driving Anger Scale developed by Deffenbacher et al. (1994) was used to measure driver anger or irritability. Scales to measure self-reported acts of risk-taking in traffic were also included. An index based on three dimensions of risky driving was used to measure the concept altogether. These scales, termed speeding, rule violations and self-assertiveness, were previously developed by Rundmo and Ulleberg (2000). Accident involvement was measured through self-reports asking people if they had ever been involved in accidents with either material damage or personal injury. The applied questionnaire is reproduced in its entirety in Ulleberg (2000). 2.3. Statistical procedures To examine the general relationships between personality, driving behaviour and accident involvement, a bivariate correlation analysis was applied. A linear regression analysis was carried out to determine the degree to which the variance in risky driving behaviour can be explained by the included personality traits and gender. Gender and the personality traits, anxiety, excitement seeking, aggression, normlessness and irritability, were entered as independent variables predicting risky driving behaviour. Each variable’s unique and Pi raw contributions were calculated using the formulas n¼1 b  r  100 and r2 * 100. Independent samples t-tests were used to check for gender differences. 3. Results Table 1 shows the obtained correlations between the included personality traits, risky driving behaviour and accident involvement. Correlations ranged from small to modest. Irritability is significantly correlated with risky driving behaviour (r = .39) and accidents with damages (r = .10). The same goes for aggression, however weaker. Correlations coefficients are .19 and .09. Anxiety shows a significant negative correlation with excitement-seeking (r = .22) and risky driving (r = .16), but it is not correlated with accident involvement. Excitement-seeking is related to risky driving (r = .30) and accidents with damages (r = .12), but not accidents with personal injury. Risky driving behaviour correlates with both accidents with damages (r = .21) and accidents with personal injury (r = .14). Normlessness shows the strongest correlation with risky driving behaviour (r = .45). Table 2 shows the results of a linear regression analysis. Put together, the model accounted for about 37% of the variance in risky driving behaviour. All predictors, apart from anxiety, accounted for a significant part of the variance in risky driving behaviour, with normlessness, irritability and gender giving the strongest contributions. The effects of

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Table 1 Correlations between personality traits, risky driving behaviour and accident involvement 1 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. * **

Irritability Normlessness Aggression Anxiety Excitement-seeking Risky driving behaviour Accidents with injury Accidents with damages







– .31** .07** .19** .03 .09**

– .22** .16** .00 .04

– .30** .03 .12**

– .14** .21**

– .21**

– .28** .30** .04 .25** .39** .012 .10**

– .14** .21** .28** .45** .07* .14**

p < .01. p < .001.

Table 2 Results from the regression analysis with anxiety and excitement-seeking as predictors of risky driving behaviour

Anxiety Excitement-seeking Aggression Irritability Normlessness Gender




Unique contribution (%)

Raw contribution

.002 .103 .103 .240 .281 .276

.077 4.188 4.037 9.544 11.156 11.145

.16 .30 .19 .39 .45 –

0 3 2 10 12 10

2.6% 9% 3.6% 5.8% 20.3%

Adjusted R2 = 37.3%. Dependent variable: risky driving behaviour.

excitement seeking and aggression were somewhat weaker. Independent sample t-tests revealed significant gender differences in risky driving behaviour (t = 13.99, df = 1311, p < .001), accidents with damages (t = 5.71, df = 1226, p < .001) and accidents with personal injury (t = 2.60, df = 1139, p < .05). Males obtained higher scores than females in all these aspects. 4. Discussion The present study was carried out to investigate the relationships between gender and a number of personality traits of risky driving behaviour and accident involvement. The applied regression model explained 37% of the variance in self-reported risky driving. In particular, gender and normlessness were strong predictors of risky driving behaviour. The strong effect of gender also confirms a well-established finding within the risk research community. However, the fact that normlessness should be a similarly strong predictor was less expected. According to this, normless males report most risky driving. This finding is in line with the results presented in the introduction and hence gives further support to these dimensions as important elements of risk behaviour in traffic. Besides implying low respect for actual traffic rules and regulations, normlessness may relate to a general tendency of irresponsibility and therefore be of importance to driving behaviour at large. Irritability also explained a relatively large part of the variance in risky driving, possibly because irritability may foster agitation which again may impair concentration and the


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ability to focus. Apart from this, the remaining personality variables explained a smaller part of the variance. Several possible explanations to this can be suggested. First, personality may be indirectly related to driving behaviour, for instance, by influencing how much people drive and the manner in which they choose to do so (Beirness, 1993). Ulleberg and Rundmo (2003) found personality to influence risky driving indirectly through affecting the attitudinal determinants of behaviour. Such explanations are highly plausible, since personality constitutes broad patterns of behavioural tendencies. High correlations between personality and specific behaviours may therefore be unlikely (Epstein and O’Brien, 1985). Second, personality may not have equal effects on all groups of drivers. According to trait theory, personality stabilizes in adulthood, typically around the age of 30 (Costa and McCrae, 1990). A search for relationships between personality and driving behaviour among adolescents may be biased and to generalize to other groups of drivers may be problematic. Where the driving takes place may also be of significance. Some driving environments are more regulated than others. Perhaps personality variables influence driving more among people who live in rural areas, simply because they are more free to drive as they please? The current study included subjects from both urban and rural areas. Perhaps a segregation of these groups would produce different results? Further research is needed to determine the manner in which personality actually relates to driving behaviour. The trait anxiety presents a particularly interesting case in the present study. The fact that it was weakly related to risky driving and unrelated to accident involvement was contrary to expectations. This finding may suggest a non-linear relationship between anxiety and driving behaviour, i.e., for individuals with an average or controllable level of anxiety, this trait will not affect their driving behaviour in any important way. However, very high or very low scores may still be related to risky driving. High scorers are typically tense and nervous. Low scorers are calm and relaxed (Costa and McCrae, 1992). Possibly, can too much calmness and relaxation make drivers unaware or even careless of potential risks related to driving? Ulleberg (2000) reported that high and low levels of anxiety were among the characterizing attributes of two different groups of high-risk young drivers. This finding supports the possibility of a non-linear relationship between anxiety and driving behaviour. There are several aspects that one should be aware of when interpreting the results of traffic safety research such as the present study. First, people have a tendency to overestimate the frequency of dramatic events, such as serious traffic accidents (Oltedal et al., 2004). Even though accidents are frequently reported in the news, they do in fact happen very rarely. A driver’s risk of getting injured or killed on Norwegian roads is .19 per million kilometres driven (Bjørnskau, 2003). From a group of five, only one will be involved in an accident during a lifetime as a driver, and with 80–90% certainty the accident will cause no more than a light personal injury (Vaa, 2003). In a survey using a random sample, those who have actually been involved in accidents are likely to be too few to make an impact. That is, even if personality is related to accident involvement, this relation is difficult to fully detect. If respondents were selected in a way ensuring that a satisfactory portion of the sample has been involved in accidents, those could be compared to those with fewer or no accident records. A further problematic issue concerning traffic accident research in general is impression management. How honest can we expect people to be when asked about their accident record? In fact, one can think of several reasons for people to be dishonest.

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Accidents are often seen as the result of speeding or other kinds of irresponsible driving behaviour. Insurance companies demand higher premiums from people with accident records and it questions their abilities as drivers. Despite this, Lajunen and Summala (2003) concluded in their study that bias caused by social desirability was a relatively small problem. Similar results have been reported from studies on personality. They have shown that although people are capable of distorting their answers on personality tests, most people tend to answer honestly if instructed to do so (Costa and McCrae, 1992). Still, accidents can simply be forgotten. Loftus (1993) found that 14% of people involved in injury-provoking accidents had forgotten about it a year later. Maycock et al. (1996) reported that approximately 30% of all accidents are forgotten within a year (in Iversen and Rundmo, 2002). A possible solution to this could be to ask about accidents that have happened in a limited period of time. Impression management and forgetting the present challenge for research on accident involvement, since there will always be some uncertainty tied to self-reports. To summarize, the current results present evidence suggesting that both gender and certain personality traits are influential on risky driving behaviour among Norwegian adolescents. However, not all the relationships were strong, indicating that traits are perhaps not directly related to driving behaviour. To determine if personality traits might work as a mediating factor, more efforts should be aimed at investigating the relationships between personality traits and variables that are more directly related to driving behaviour, like for instance the amount of time spent on driving. References Arnett, J.J., Offer, D., Fine, M.A., 1997. Reckless driving in adolescence: ‘state’ and ‘trait’ factors. Accident Analysis and Prevention 29 (1), 57–63. Beirness, D.J., 1993. Do we really drive as we live? The role of personality factors in road crashes. Alcohol, Drugs and Driving 9 (3–4), 129–143. Bjørnskau, T., 2003. Risiko i trafikken 2001–2002. Transportøkonomisk institutt, Oslo. Buss, D.M., 2004. Evolutionary Psychology: the New Science of the Mind, second ed. Pearson, Boston. Chliaoutakis, J.E., Demakakos, P., Tzamalouka, G., Bakou, V., Koumaki, M., Darviri, C., 2002. Aggressive behavior while driving as predictor of self-reported car crashes. Journal of Safety Research 33 (4), 431–443. Clement, R., Jonah, B.A., 1984. Field dependence, sensation seeking and driving behaviour. Personality and Individual Differences 5 (1), 87–93. Costa, P.T., McCrae, R.R., 1990. Personality in Adulthood. Guilford, New York. Costa, P.T., McCrae, R.R., 1992. Revised Neo Personality Inventory (neo pi-r) and Neo Five-factor Inventory (neo-ffi) Professional Manual. Psychological Assessment Resources Inc., Odessa, FL. Deffenbacher, J.L., Deffenbacher, D.M., Lynch, R.S., Richards, T.L., 2003. Anger, aggression, and risky behavior: a comparison of high and low anger drivers. Behaviour Research and Therapy 41 (6), 701–718. Deffenbacher, J.L., Oetting, E.R., Lynch, R.S., 1994. Development of a driving anger scale. Psychological Reports 74, 83–91. Elander, J., West, R., French, D., 1993. Behavioral-correlates of individual-differences in road-traffic crash risk— an examination of methods and findings. Psychological Bulletin 113 (2), 279–294. Epstein, S., O’Brien, E.J., 1985. The person-situation debate in historical and current perspective. Psychological Bulletin 98 (3), 513–537. Garrity, R.D., Demick, J., 2001. Relations among personality traits, mood states, and driving behaviors. Journal of Adult Development 8 (2), 109–118. Iversen, H., Rundmo, T., 2002. Personality, risky driving and accident involvement among norwegian drivers. Personality and Individual Differences 33, 1251–1263. Jonah, B.A., 1997. Sensation seeking and risky driving: a review and synthesis of the literature. Accident Analysis and Prevention 29 (5), 651–665.


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