Examining traffic flow and speed data: determining imitative behavior

Traffic Inj Prev. 2011 Jun;12(3):266-73. doi: 10.1080/15389588.2011.555887.


Objectives: This article will empirically examine the contagion theory using traffic count and speed data. This theory proposes that a driver's choice of speed will be influenced by the speed of other drivers on the road. Thus, if a person is driving at the speed limit but a certain number of the surrounding vehicles are driving faster, the person can be influenced to increase his speed. It is implied that there would be different types or groups of drivers, each with different propensities toward imitation. Imitative behavior will be considered as a possible mechanism behind contagion theory.

Methods: A standard traffic counter was used to collect for a period of 8 days. Using cluster analysis, the data will be differentiated and the group characteristics examined. Finally, these effects will be examined on an hourly basis to determine whether time of day has any effect upon the outcome.

Results: The analysis produced several groups of drivers similar to that predicted by contagion theory. Two groups of drivers, high-speed and lower speed drivers, remain relatively stable in numbers as expected. Two intermediate groups showed signs of imitative behavior.

Conclusions: The results appear to support contagion theory as a social mechanism influencing individual drivers' choices of speed. Several alternative explanations are introduced as partial explanations. In light of the traffic accident problem in the United Arab Emirates and recent police programs aimed at reducing this problem, such studies aid in determining the extent of speeding behavior and the effectiveness of recent initiatives.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acceleration*
  • Automobile Driving / psychology*
  • Automobile Driving / statistics & numerical data
  • Choice Behavior
  • Empirical Research
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior*
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Time Factors
  • United Arab Emirates