Forgetting Induced Speeding: Can Prospective Memory Failure Account for Drivers Exceeding the Speed Limit?

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Abstract

It is generally assumed that drivers speed intentionally because of factors such as frustration with the speed limit or general impatience. The current study examined whether speeding following an interruption could be better explained by unintentional prospective memory (PM) failure. In these situations, interrupting drivers may create a PM task, with speeding the result of drivers forgetting their newly encoded intention to travel at a lower speed after interruption. Across 3 simulated driving experiments, corrected or uncorrected speeding in recently reduced speed zones (from 70 km/h to 40 km/h) increased on average from 8% when uninterrupted to 33% when interrupted. Conversely, the probability that participants traveled under their new speed limit in recently increased speed zones (from 40 km/h to 70 km/h) increased from 1% when uninterrupted to 23% when interrupted. Consistent with a PM explanation, this indicates that interruptions lead to a general failure to follow changed speed limits, not just to increased speeding. Further testing a PM explanation, Experiments 2 and 3 manipulated variables expected to influence the probability of PM failures and subsequent speeding after interruptions. Experiment 2 showed that performing a cognitively demanding task during the interruption, when compared with unfilled interruptions, increased the probability of initially speeding from 1% to 11%, but that participants were able to correct (reduce) their speed. In Experiment 3, providing participants with 10s longer to encode the new speed limit before interruption decreased the probability of uncorrected speeding after an unfilled interruption from 30% to 20%. Theoretical implications and implications for road design interventions are discussed.

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