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1.4 million UK motorists illegally speed because of happiness

New research from shows 4.5 million UK drivers have committed an illegal offence as a result of their emotions.

Posted on 10 Oct 2016

- Just one in 10 (10%) drivers believe feeling happy would affect someone’s driving but 1.4 million (1) drivers have admitted to speeding as a result of happiness

  • - 4.5 million UK drivers have committed an illegal offence as a result of their emotions
  • - Driving under the influence of anger triples the heart rate, making it the most dangerous of emotions
  • - More than one in three (34%) couples argue while driving in the car

Happy drivers commit illegal offences according to new research from motoring experts 

We all know that alcohol and drug consumption seriously affects the ability to drive safely, but how does a good/bad day at work or an argument with a loved one while behind the wheel affect our driving capabilities?

The survey of UK motorists* found that over half (51%) believe that their emotional state behind the wheel doesn’t impact on their ability to drive, especially not positive feelings such as happiness or excitement. However, 4.5 million (2) drivers admit to committing illegal offences such as running red lights or speeding as a result of feeling emotional. A further 3.23 million (3) drivers have had an accident or near miss as a result of their emotions.

The recent study reveals the way in which driving under the influence of emotions impacts our mind, body and actions, and therefore our ability to drive safely. has partnered with TV behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings to explore anger, stress and anxiety, sadness, exhaustion, worry/fear, excitement and even happiness.

 Emotional tool


This follows the revelation that drivers don’t take their emotions seriously while driving. Just one in 10 (10%) UK drivers believe happiness affects their ability to drive. However, Hemmings explains: 

"Like so many driving behaviours, anything that drifts from a state of equilibrium is always a potential problem on the road. “If you’re feeling giddy with joy, you’re likely to be self-absorbed, which may impair your concentration. So make sure you focus on the journey rather than letting your mind wander. When feeling happy, your heart rate could increase from a standard 60 BPM to 100 BPM. Also, feel-good hormones such as dopamine and serotonin flood our bodies. This can make us feel highly alert but this can sometimes impair focus and concentration while driving.

Focus on your speed as happiness is just as dangerous as anger.  Happy drivers are more likely to speed or run red lights due to feeling invincible and powerful.

Anger is of course not something to ignore. While experiencing road rage, your heart rate is said to triple, accelerating from a standard 60 BPM to 180 BPM. Your blood pressure rises, adrenaline is released, muscles tense and attention narrows. Anger is thought of as the most dangerous emotion by UK drivers (79%) and psychologist Jo Hemmings agrees, explaining:

The most obvious manifestation of anger behind the wheel is road rage. We become territorial in our cars and any threat to our territory or behaviour can be perceived as an affront. This makes us angry and causes us to take revenge without due consideration for the consequences. This is not only aimed at those that have caused the anger but other road users too without due consideration for the consequences.

However, other common situations that instigate anger include driving while arguing, driving after an argument, and driving after a bad day at work.

When it comes to arguing with a partner while driving, more than one in three couples do not hold back. 34% of those in a relationship admit to frequently arguing while behind the wheel, increasing the chances of an accident and putting them both at risk. 

Whether it’s worrying about work, relationships or family, “highway hypnosis”, when the mind gets lost in deep thoughts instead of focusing on the road, is most likely to occur when we feel this way. This can be similar to being in a light sleep.

Perhaps what we appreciate the least is the negative impact our more positive emotions have on our driving ability. A good mood or a sense of heightened anticipation can make us feel over-stimulated, with feel-good hormones coursing through us. These can also impair our focus and concentration, leading us to take unnecessary risks or drive too fast.
We can see that almost every significant emotion has a potentially negative impact on our driving ability and therefore it’s something that should be taken seriously.

Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at, says: "There are many things that drivers do behind the wheel that could be considered distracting – smoking, eating, talking on a phone – but feeling emotional might not come into people’s minds. And while many may think that it’s just sadness or anger that can affect your driving, this research shows that happiness can sometimes be just as detrimental. 

“While we’re not advising drivers to be void of emotion, it’s important to be aware of how your feelings could lead you to make poor road choices, such as speeding and erratic driving. Motorists who are caught committing driving offences will need to notify their insurer, which could result in increased premiums. If you’re feeling over-excited or upset, take a moment to compose yourself before getting behind the wheel.”


Explore the campaign here using’s interactive tool showing the different emotions drivers can feel while behind the wheel and the effects of too. 
Notes to Editors
*Unless otherwise stated, all figures taken from omnibus research carried out by One Poll research on behalf of This was an online poll of 2,000 UK drivers (nationally representative sample).  The research was conducted between 20th August and 27th August 2016.

(1) Department for Transport figures show there are 31.8 million driving licence holders in Britain (2014) –14% of this equals 4,452,000 (rounded up to 4.5 million) and 31% of those is 1,380,120(rounded up to 1.4 million).
(2) Department for Transport figures show there are 31.8 million driving licence holders in Britain (2014) –14% of this equals 4,452,000 (rounded up to 4.5 million).
(3) Department for Transport figures show there are 31.8 million driving licence holders in Britain (2014) –10% of this equals 3,180,000 (rounded up to 3.2 million).

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