Research: Drivers Can Be Motivated to Observe Speed Limits

Safety advocates and law enforcement have tried many strategies to convince drivers to follow speed limits. According to some estimates, nearly 12,000 people in the United States die each year as a result of speeding. As a recent study by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) discovered, cash may be the secret to preventing people from slowing down and staying safe on the road.

Researchers with the DOT placed GPS devices in the cars of participating motorists. The GPS measured the car's speed and kept track of whether the driver observed posted speed limits. There was, however, a catch: test subjects were offered a prize of $25 at the end of every week they drove safely. The award was reduced, however, each time they exceeded the speed limit: by three cents for going five to eight miles above the limit, and by six cents for going nine or more miles over the limit.

The result was that driving nine miles or more above the limit almost never happened during the study. The incentive system worked amazingly well. A researcher suggested that people were motivated both by the desire to receive the prize and the desire to avoid the penalties, small though they were.

Psychologists have long observed that people pay special attention to a "ticking meter" counting down small losses that build up, and that phenomenon could account for the drivers' behavior in the study. The NHTSA researcher believes that the challenge of trying to beat the game played a big part in motivating some drivers in the study.

The drivers had GPS devices in their cars that monitored their speed for the purpose of calculating their reward and also allowed the drivers to be constantly aware of whether they were within the speed limit.

Auto insurance companies that now offer rebates for good driving might be able to encourage safe driving in real time by using the parameters of this experiment to give frequent instant rewards to drivers who can beat the game by controlling their speed.

Finding approaches that work to make the highways safer is exciting news. Accidents will still happen due to driver negligence, though, and anyone who is injured because of someone else's bad driving will want the assistance of a personal injury attorney. It may be possible to recover compensation for medical expenses, loss of wages and pain and suffering due to a motor vehicle accident.