Study: Traffic offenders stand out both in unhealthy and healthy activities

Fast food.
Fast food. Source: CC BY 2.0/

Problematic behavior in traffic can be related to unhealthy habits, for example, alcohol and fast food consumption, but also healthy ones such as regular physical exercise, psychophysiology professor Jaanus Harro's recent study reveals.

817 people participated in the study, with a roughly 50-50 gender split. Participants answered questions on aggressive and impulsive behavior habits, and provided blood and also gene tests. This data was collated with information on traffic violations and accidents given by the police and insurance companies, over the last five years.

It emerged that the 137 people who were caught speeding differed from the rest with their more frequent consumption of fast food, alcohol and energy drinks. "The speeders also reported stronger physical activity - in the form of hard work or training," doctoral student Tõnis Tokko from Tartu University's Institute of Psychology said.

Within the study, subjects who consume energy drinks once a week or more also stood out. Among those caught speeding, 14,6 percent had been using energy drinks and among non-speeders, 7.5. "Energy drinks are likely not the direct reason for car accidents, but a mirror of a need for stimulants," Tokko said.

He added that speeders engaged in physical training on average of 5.7 hours per week; non-speeders 3.7. Tokko said that this explains their larger need to curb their impulsivity.

"The results also reveal that risky behavior in one area of life may mean that a person takes more risks in other areas as well," the professor said.

Even though there were more traffic violations among men that participated in the study than women, the above associations are valid for both genders.

It is also worth mentioning that around 55 percent of respondents who had speeding offenses to their names in the last five years had also been involved in a traffic accident. Among non-speeders, this percentage was 22.

In addition, Tokko and Harro together with Diva Eensoo from the Institute of Health Development and Kadi Luht-Kallas from the Academy of Internal Affairs studied how risky behavior in traffic is related to genetic predisposition. It has been demonstrated that certain gene variants that regulate serotonin transport can be associated with risky traffic behavior.

However, it is well-known that the sensitivity to environmental influences is different for the studied gene variants. Serotonin is associated with depression, among other things, and its levels are regulated by several antidepressants. "We found that gene variants that control serotonin function can be associated with risky behavior in traffic and other life. However, these results need to be confirmed in subsequent studies," Tokko discussed.


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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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