PHOENIX — Although GPS enables us to find our destination on our own, following a friend to a destination by car is still a common behavior. A new study finds that it may be a dangerous behavior, however, leading to unsafe driving.
Researchers at Arizona State University recruited college students with valid driver’s licenses for a driving simulation experiment. During the test, students were initially instructed to drive as they did normally, before being told to each drive with a navigation system. They were then tasked with driving while trailing a friend.
The researchers assessed a number of variables in driving behavior, including one’s speed and distance from the car they were trailing, before introducing road hazards to see if additional obstacles further changed driving behavior.
Overall, following a friend led participants to drive faster and more erratically, get closer to the car in front of them, and make quicker lane changes, when compared to both of the control conditions in normal and GPS-assisted driving.
“We observed changes in behavior that increased the likelihood of being involved in an accident,” says Robert Gray, the study’s lead researcher and a professor in Human Systems Engineering at the university, in a press release.
In addition, hazards — such as a red light or pedestrian crossing — were more likely to be ignored by a driver following a friend.
“It is important to note that in our simulation, the leader and other vehicles around them did not break any laws, so the follower was not just copying the risky driving behavior they saw from someone else,” adds Gray.
The researchers speculate that the increase in risky behavior might be a symptom of one fearing they’ll get lost.
The experiment’s driving simulation was computerized, which allowed driver behavior to be isolated from the behavior of other participants around them — e.g., speeding or distracted driving.
So what should you do if following a friend to an unfamiliar place is an option?
“If you are faced with this situation, get the address from the lead driver and use a map or navigation device so you know how to get there yourself,” says Gray. “In the future, we plan to investigate whether some knowledge about the location of the destination can get rid of these dangerous effects.”
The study’s findings were published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology.