Latest research & theory

Loss of control by a driver necessarily arises when the demands of the driving task exceed the capability of the driver.

The Task-Capability Interface Model proposes that drivers drive to maintain level of difficulty within a preferred range. A driver ‘selects’ a range of difficulty within which to operate, which may vary with mood or trip agenda, and drives in such a way as to maintain experienced difficulty within that range. Manipulation of speed is one way of achieving this, although undertaking or dumping other tasks secondary to the primary driving task may be used.

When driving task demand (TD) exceeds driver’s available capability (AC), loss of control (of the driving task, and potentially of the vehicle) results. A driver’s preference for a comfortable level of task demand (a Goldilocks amount: not too little and not too much, but just right) will determine the level of task difficulty they seek.

Task-difficulty Model

Task-difficulty Model of control of the driving task (from Kinnear, 2009, p.62)

Evidence shows that drivers’ ratings of task difficulty, over a very wide range of speeds, are highly correlated with their feelings of risk. Such feelings may provide feedback for managing task difficulty. Thus what becomes important from a safety perspective is tolerance of high levels of risk feeling. Some young people seek the feeling of risk.

The theory suggests that inexperienced drivers are vulnerable because they underestimate task difficulty, and do so by underestimating the task demand and overestimating their capability.

Young novice drivers need re-calibrating:

  1. The driving task is, from time to time, more difficult than they think it is, partly because they don’t feel the fear (Kinnear & Stradling, 2010: and see 3.1.5)
  2. COAST: They’re not as competent as they think they are in Concentrating, Observing and Anticipating – and thus may not have sufficient Space and Time to take avoiding action.


Control and affect: motivational aspects of driver decision-making, Fuller, R., 2005. In Proceedings of the International Workshop on Modelling Driver Behaviour in Automotive Environments, L. Macchi, C. Re and P.C. Cacciabue (Eds), pp. 45-52(Luxembourg: Office for Official Publication of the European Communities).

Driving as You Feel: A Psychological Investigation of the Novice Driver Problem, Kinnear, N.A.D. (2009). Unpublished PhD thesis. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Napier University.

Young, novice drivers and the development of somatic markers for risk on the road, Kinnear, N. & Stradling, S.G. (in press, 2010). In D.A.Hennessy (Ed.) Traffic Psychology & Driver Behaviour, New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.