The Scent Of Danger

Having the wrong smell in a car can cause speeding, dozing, road rage and potentially even serious accidents according to the RAC Foundation.

Having the right smell can help a driver to recognise dangers earlier, stay focused on the road ahead, forgive other peoples’ driving errors and even find a bit of romance.

Following the release of a study* into odours and driving conducted at the West Virginia Wheeling Jesuit University, the RAC Foundation has conducted an extensive research and literature review into effects of smell on driving.

Sue Nicholson, Head of Campaigns for the RAC Foundation said:

"It’s astounding how much the smell in a car can affect a driver’s mood and actions. Smell is a very powerful sense and could result in a lack of concentration or over-reaction to minor irritations on the road - which can turn into potentially life threatening incidents"

While the West Virginia research appeared to identify peppermint and cinnamon odours as being the best cure-all, the range of smells that can help or hinder driving are enormous.

Conrad King, the RAC Foundation’s consultant psychologist, who conducted the research review added:

"More than any other sense, the sense of smell circumnavigates the logical part of the brain and acts on the limbic and emotional systems. This is why the smell of perfume can turn men into gibbering idiots, the smell of baking bread can destroy the best intentions of a dieter and the smell of baby powder can make a child averse individual become quite broody"

"When we bring cars into the equation, however, the ability of various smells to over or under stimulate us as drivers can have catastrophic results."

Dangerous smells to be aware of are:

  • Camomile, Jasmine, and Lavender - these are all used to treat insomnia and can cause drivers to become over relaxed behind the wheel. They are also present in many "flowery" air fresheners.
  • The smell of fast food wrappers, fresh bread or pastry - these can cause driver irritability, a preponderance to speed and an increased chance of involvement in road rage because they can all make drivers feel hungry and in a hurry to satiate their appetites.
  • The smell of fresh cut grass, pine woods or roadside flowers - while relaxing some drivers, this can put others into a nostalgic frame of mind where they daydream of swooping down country lanes and fail to appreciate the speed at which they are travelling. For hay fever sufferers there may be the added problem of streaming eyes and sneezing.
  • A combination of leather seats and oil - this can make some older drivers remember the thrill and sense of freedom that came with their first cars. They could potentially then unconsciously adopt the risk taking behaviour of much younger drivers.
  • Certain perfumes and aftershaves - these can have a strong sexual association which may make both male and female drivers more interested in carnal matters than motoring matters. Whole memories, complete with all associated emotions, can be prompted by smell.
continues | Part Two
5 June 2005 Staff

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