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For his PhD, carried out at Edinburgh Napier and Glasgow Caledonian universities, Neale Kinnear asked young learner drivers, young inexperienced drivers and young experienced drivers to view twelve DSA hazard perception clips while wired up to equipment measuring their skin conductance.

Emotional reaction

They also used a slider gauge to indicate, moment by moment, how hazardous they thought each developing situation was becoming, whilst the equipment measured their emotional reaction to the emerging scene.

All showed emotional reaction to the full-blown hazard, but the three groups differed in the extent to which they showed anticipatory reactions – a bodily ‘sixth sense’, a feeling of fear, that something untoward was about to happen.

The experienced young drivers averaged an anticipatory response on around two-thirds of the clips, inexperienced drivers on one third, and learners on less than a quarter while the groups did not differ on the slider task. They did not differ on how hazardous the situation looked, but did differ on how hazardous it felt.

When he probed further, Neale found that the middle group, the qualified but inexperienced young drivers, differed according to whether they had driven more or less than 1,000 miles post-test.

Those with little on-road experience were no better than the learners; those with more were approaching the level of the experienced drivers.

anticipatory score graph

Graph of Anticipatory Score by experience group

Dr Kinnear concluded that a certain amount of on-road driving experience, post-test, was necessary to develop the kinds of automatic, bodily anticipations that drivers use to warn them when to slow down, back off, and anticipate the worst. This failure to feel the fear is consistent with the enormous elevation in crash risk for young, novice drivers in the period immediately following passing their driving test

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