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“I forgot” may (sometimes) be a credible excuse for breaking the speed limit

11 April 2017

When someone breaks the speed limit, we tend to explain it away as recklessness, machismo, or impatience.

 But new research led by Vanessa Bowden at the University of Western Australia, suggests that problems in memory, not temperament, may often be the culprit.

According to a recent study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, traffic stops and other interruptions can disrupt our ability to keep track of recent changes to the speed limit. But the research doesn’t entirely let us off the hook: when waiting at a stop, we can reduce these interfering effects by making sure we keep our attention on the road.

The research involved around 100 students at the University of Western Australia, mostly younger men, which is the demographic most likely to be involved in speeding-related accidents.

Participants sat in a simulated driving cockpit with steering wheel, pedals and windscreen projecting a virtual road along which they had to drive for 15 kilometres without speeding, but also without dropping too far below the limit. In the first study, the limit was mostly a brisk 70km/hr, but it periodically decreased to 40km/hr for short sections of the road.

Read more on our Research Digest blog.

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