The heart of driving

You do sometimes wonder about the quality of the research that backs up government policy – especially policy relating to driving. I suspect that the kind of research indicating that speed is a major factor in road accidents goes something like this: “Wow, that guy is going fast. That looks dangerous.” Or maybe: “Hmm. It seems that if you hit something faster it causes more damage. So speed must kill.”

Cynical? Me? Not if you look at the kind of research just put together by the University of Sussex to back up the Government’s “Act on CO2” initiative (whatever that means).

The research in this case consisted of comparing the heart rates of ten – yes, a whole ten – drivers making journeys on their own and ten driving with a companion. This revealed that “on average, there was a ten per cent reduction in heart rate when car sharing than when driving solo”.

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right: the grammar is pretty awful. But so is the thinking. Why should a lower heart rate be safer? Most people have a lower heart rate when they’re asleep. And even if a lower heart rate is safer, my own 45-year research reveals that I have carried a number of passengers (probably more than ten) who have increased my heart rate considerably, for one reason or another.

Experience leads me to conclude that driving with a companion is more dangerous than driving alone, because when you are alone you are not likely to turn your head to speak to someone who is not there; furthermore, you are more likely to concentrate when you don’t have someone next to you asking questions, commenting on the scenery and saying: “Wow, look at that aeroplane.”

It seems that for once even the Government couldn’t swallow the research and has abandoned a campaign to encourage people to share car journeys on the basis of it. The DfT observed, in announcing this decision: “It was not, and was not intended to be, a thoroughly robust piece of academic research.”

So if anyone has some research that could back up such a campaign, please ring the DfT. But you will need at least 20 people and a catch phrase. Something like: “The debate is over.”