Risky driving when following a friend

Most of us have experienced it. You’re heading out for dinner but do not know the location. Fortunately your friend does, so you choose to follow her in the car. Your friend tends to drive a little faster than you do, making her difficult to follow. How does this influence your driving? Specifically, does this lead to more risk taking behaviour?

Researchers at Arizona State University investigated this issue during a driving simulator. Sixteen participants aged 18-22 years were asked to drive to a destination whilst either:

  • following a friend
  • following the directions from a navigational system
  • drive their own route

Key Findings

When approaching a pedestrian crossing, participants more often made the riskier choice of cutting in front of a pedestrian when following a friend, rather than waiting for the pedestrian to cross

Risky driving study speed
This data represents the mean speed when approaching a pedestrian crossing. Extracted from McNabb et al. (2017).


When approaching a yellow light, participants accelerated faster through intersections when following a friend.

Risky driving study accel
This data represents the mean maximum acceleration when going through an intersection. Extracted from McNabb et al. (2017)


The authors state: “In terms of general driving performance, drivers in the follow a friend condition drove significantly faster, had significantly shorter time headways when following other vehicles, and quicker lane changes as compared to drivers in both the navigation and baseline conditions.”


The obvious implication is that it’s best if the driver knows the direction of where they are heading (which isn’t too difficult these days with the aid of Google maps). Otherwise, its important for the lead driver to drive slower and make conservative decisions when approaching crossings and intersections.


McNabb, J., Kuzel, M., & Gray, R. (2017). I’ll Show You the Way: Risky Driver Behavior When “Following a Friend”. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1-6.

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