Driving As Stressful As Skydiving
June 11, 2013

Driving In Traffic Nearly As Stressful As Skydiving, Says MIT Study

[ Watch The Video Audi´s Road Frustration Index Test ]

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Driving in traffic can be stressful, and even more so depending on where you live. German car maker Audi and researchers from MIT teamed up to discover just how stressful driving is and came up with some surprising results. According to their data, driving can be more stressful than eating breakfast, attending a lecture at MIT or, in some instances, almost as stressful as jumping from an airplane. This information was all collected as a part of a project they call the Road Frustration Index (RFI), a scoring card which the partnership used to measure how stressful traffic conditions are in different parts of US.

To gather this data, the group outfitted an Audi automobile with a host of cameras and sensors to measure the emotional and physical reactions of the driver while driving through different cities. Each car was rigged with three cameras all pointed at the driver, a GPS device to track the route taken, a Kinect sensor to digitize the driver´s responses and a heart monitor on the seatbelt. These devices then captured data as the driver traversed through towns like Atlanta, Boston, Houston and Los Angeles. Next the team took similar stress measurements of participants who ate breakfast in the morning, attended office meetings, sat through lectures at MIT, or participated in extreme sporting events like skydiving.

“The data we received is fascinating. One study showed that getting side swiped by an oncoming car can be almost as stressful as jumping out of a plane," said Filip Brabec, the director of product management at Audi America in a statement.

This is a bit of a fuzzy statement, of course. According to the data presented by MIT, the peaks in stress for a driver in Boston are higher than some of the lower points experienced by a skydiver. The general idea remains the same and has largely been understood, at least anecdotally — driving can be a risky and stressful business.

Going one step further, Audi and MIT took to the American roadways to score some major metropolitan cities to determine where drivers are most stressed. They scored these highways based on four main factors: incidents, sentiment, traffic and weather. Incidents, traffic and weather are easy enough to quantify and are easily measured. To understand sentiment, however, the team took to Twitter to understand what residents were saying about their respective city´s traffic conditions. Searching the microblogging site for words like “traffic jam” and “stuck” in specific cities, the team was able to come up with the sentiment factor and include it in the overall RFI score.

Using this scorecard, the RFI had no trouble issuing the highest scores for bad traffic to some of America´s metropolitan areas. For instance, notoriously bad traffic spots like Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland and Los Angeles all received a score of 100. The majority of the scores for most cities came from the sentiment and incidents factor, though some areas like LA had plenty of help from the incidents and traffic dimensions as well. The average RFI score for the US sits at 65, though many cities scored lower than that. The three cities with the lowest RFI were Phoenix (23), Charlotte (27) and Baltimore (29). Other large metropolitan cities with surprisingly low scores were Dallas/Fort Worth (29) New York (34) and Houston (35).

The stress of driving certainly isn´t equal or greater than the stress of throwing yourself from a plane, but based on these results, it certainly affects the body more than we may have previously thought.