Personality, Executive Control, and Neurobiological Characteristics Associated with Different Forms of Risky Driving

PLoS One. 2016 Feb 24;11(2):e0150227. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150227. eCollection 2016.


Background: Road crashes represent a huge burden on global health. Some drivers are prone to repeated episodes of risky driving (RD) and are over-represented in crashes and related morbidity. However, their characteristics are heterogeneous, hampering development of targeted intervention strategies. This study hypothesized that distinct personality, cognitive, and neurobiological processes are associated with the type of RD behaviours these drivers predominantly engage in.

Methods: Four age-matched groups of adult (19-39 years) males were recruited: 1) driving while impaired recidivists (DWI, n = 36); 2) non-alcohol reckless drivers (SPEED, n = 28); 3) drivers with a mixed RD profile (MIXED, n = 27); and 4) low-risk control drivers (CTL, n = 47). Their sociodemographic, criminal history, driving behaviour (by questionnaire and simulation performance), personality (Big Five traits, impulsivity, reward sensitivity), cognitive (disinhibition, decision making, behavioural risk taking), and neurobiological (cortisol stress response) characteristics were gathered and contrasted.

Results: Compared to controls, group SPEED showed greater sensation seeking, disinhibition, disadvantageous decision making, and risk taking. Group MIXED exhibited more substance misuse, and antisocial, sensation seeking and reward sensitive personality features. Group DWI showed greater disinhibition and more severe alcohol misuse, and compared to the other RD groups, the lowest level of risk taking when sober. All RD groups exhibited less cortisol increase in response to stress compared to controls.

Discussion: Each RD group exhibited a distinct personality and cognitive profile, which was consistent with stimulation seeking in group SPEED, fearlessness in group MIXED, and poor behavioural regulation associated with alcohol in group DWI. As these group differences were uniformly accompanied by blunted cortisol stress responses, they may reflect the disparate behavioural consequences of dysregulation of the stress system. In sum, RD preference appears to be a useful marker for clarifying explanatory pathways to risky driving, and for research into developing more personalized prevention efforts.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition*
  • Driving Under the Influence*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality*
  • Risk-Taking*