Date of Award

Summer 1989

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Industrial/Organizational Psychology

Committee Director

Glynn D. Coates

Committee Member

Peter Mikulka

Committee Member

Raymond H. Kirby


This study examined the effects of risk-taking style, stress level, and highway environment on driver performance. In Phase I, 50 subjects were assessed for risk-taking style and stress level. In Phase II, the same subjects were presented with slides of traffic situations that varied in terms of risk of accident. This was a paired comparison task in which they rank-ordered ten highway sites, producing a measure of subjective risk. No significant relationships were identified between these subjective risk judgments and objective data regarding those sites (accidents and fatalities), though this is most likely due to problems with the slide presentation. In Phase III, the subjects drove in one of two scenarios (high-risk of accident or low-risk) in a highway simulator, and six vehicle operation variables were recorded, including time spent in each zone of the scenario, lane placement, average speed and standard deviation of speed over zones, number of accidents, and steering reversals. Evaluation of these variables indicated that risk-taking style and stress were good predictors of driver performance, though not as good as the difficulty of the roadway, which accounted for 87% of the variance. Of particular importance was the interaction of high levels of stress and high risk-taking style on driver performance, causing decrements in the vehicle operation measures.


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