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Money Game Makes Motorists Slow Down

Ian Reagan with ODU's James Bliss

Could $25 a week be incentive enough to stop people from speeding in their vehicles?

Ian Reagan, a 2011 Ph.D. graduate in human factors psychology at Old Dominion University, began to explore this question while he was still in school. Now, as a researcher for the National Traffic Safety Administration, he has come up with study results that are gaining attention nationwide.

National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" on Thursday, June 21, broadcast a report, "GPS Study Shows Drivers Will Slow Down, At a Cost," in which reporter Shankar Vedantam interviews Reagan


Because speeding kills about 12,000 motorists every year, governments at all levels have tried numerous ways to slow people down. Giving speeding tickets is the most common, but deterrents have also included flashing signs telling drivers their speed or hidden cameras with speed detectors.

No would-be solution has worked, however.

Reagan has shown that the answer may lie in psychology. In his study, which was partially funded by the NHTSA, small GPS-based devices were put in cars to constantly measure the speed against the posted speed limit. The cars' drivers were promised $25 a week if they could avoid speeding.

If they did speed, they were docked 3 cents per six seconds of speeding 5 to 8 mph above the limit and 6 cents per six seconds of speeding by 9 mph or more. That means a participant in the study lost $6 if he or she drove 75 in a 65 mph zone for 10 minutes.

"We found that the incentive system was incredibly effective in getting drivers to reduce their speeding," Reagan said in the NPR interview. "Egregious speed limit violations were almost eliminated - that's driving 9 or more (miles per hour) over the speed limit."

Why would a small reward work so well, especially when people pay $100 or more for speeding tickets?

"At least one driver said they made a game out of it," Reagan said. "They wanted to see if they could keep that incentive amount of $25."

And the instant feedback about how much of the $25 you are losing also helps, he believes.

In fact, research by psychologists has pointed out for years that people pay attention to and their behavior is modified by small, accumulating losses. This is called the "ticking meter" phenomenon.

Reagan told NPR that he thinks insurance companies might one day offer lower premiums to drivers who are willing to submit to this speed monitoring.

At ODU, Reagan's doctoral research was directed by James Bliss, professor of psychology and a human factors specialist.

This article was posted on: June 22, 2012

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