By EV World Editorial Staff

You probably knew driving could be stressful, but just how much wasn't known until Audi and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology teamed up to find out.

For twelve months, MIT's SENSEable City laboratory has been conducting a series of experiments in collaboration with Audi of America to try and quantify the level of stress drivers experience.

MIT's project leader, Kael Greco explains that "addition to daily driving conditions, we are measuring stress levels under a variety of daily activities: at home, in the office, while having breakfast or attending a lecture at MIT. We found that certain driving situations can be one of the most stressful activities in our lives." He is featured in the video below.

So just how stressful can driving a car be?

Filip Brabec, the Director of Product Management at Audi of America put it this way:

"The data we received is fascinating. One study showed that getting side swiped by an oncoming car can be almost as stressful as jumping out of a plane."

Hence the image of the skydivers on the masthead.

The Audi USA press web site explains that MIT's Senseable City researchers developed a series of tests to measure stress and formulated a "frustration" algorithm from them. This they used in conduction with GPS tracking, video monitoring, along with a modified Microsoft Kinect sensor to track body movement, to help visualize that's happening to use as we drive. They also measured skin conductance to monitor physiological responses.

With the car and the drivers instrumented, various volunteer subjects were tracked during the twelve month-long research program that included driving on "bustling highways to quiet suburban side streets;" all under a variety, they explain, of road conditions, "from stop-and-go traffic patterns of confusing roadway navigation."

Of course, it doesn't take a degree from MIT and a carload of high-tech equipment to know that driving can be highly stressful, as the video below documents.

What the study doesn't identify is the source(s) of the stress. Perhaps the biggest, yet largely unconscious one, is the threat of physical harm. More than 30,000 people die every year in traffic accidents in America. Many times that number are seriously injured, often for life. More visible mentally is stress rising from physical loss in terms of personal time and property. Someone 'idiot' is keeping me from arriving at work on time. "Damn it, that fender bender will cost me both time and money."

Then there are external factors from family relations to health issues that have nothing to do with traffic or driving, but still wheedle their way into discourse irregardless.

And all this stress takes its toll on us emotionally and physiologically, and it doesn't matter what kind of vehicle you are driving, electric or not, though the amount of pollution in the form of carbon monoxide, particulate matter, benzene and other harmful tailpipe toxins, don't help matters either.

Which brings us to a recent blog by one "Mr. Money Moustache" entitled, "Bicycling: The SAFEST Form of Transportation" in which he asserts that driving an automobile at 65 mph for one hour shortens your life by 20 minutes (and costs you $35 a hour), while riding a bicycle at 12 mph for one hour adds 4.5 hours to your life and nets you $100 in monetary gain. On a per mile basis it works out like this:

CAR: Lose 50ยข and 17 seconds of life
BIKE: Gain $8.33 and 1,350 seconds of life

Of course, these are just 'back-of-the-envelope' guesstimates, but they do highlight something important that in our enthusiasm to extoll the virtues of electric cars, we tend to ignore, which is this: they are still cars. Certainly, as a new study by Newcastle University in the north of England found, EVs can do much to improve urban air quality and that can help relieve at least one key source of physical stress: air pollution. But until EVs are more like those envisioned by car company dreamers like the Toyota iRoad or Lumeneo Smera, they are still heavy, fast, potentially deadly instruments of destruction.

Instead, as "Mr. Moustache" suggests, we would do well to also think in terms of more physically active forms of mobility: walking and biking being the two biggies. Of course, neither are completely stress free, especially in settings deliberately designed more for cars than for people. Until we make our streets more people friendly, stress is going to be an integral, if unwanted, part of the driving game. But spending less time in the car and more time on your e-bike can only help.

MIT Senseable City Lab Video

Times Article Viewed: 5248
Originally published: 14 Jun 2013


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