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Driving In Chaotic Traffic Nearly As Stressful As Skydiving, Study Finds

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Driving can be an escape from some of the stresses of life, and a task that some find relaxing or invigorating in itself. Yet far too often—when traffic snags on the morning commute, or when you see that door ding in the parking lot—driving ranks one of the most stressful activities in our lives.

That’s one of the early—and perhaps not all that surprising—findings of a project undertaken between Audi and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

In hopes of informing how in-vehicle technology can help ease driver frustration, the researchers are taking real-time and environmental data on a wide range of general and driver-specific factors. Road and traffic conditions are then related to signs like heart rate, skin conductance, facial/body indicators. They then started to compare reactions to driving to those of other activities—test-taking even and adventure sports, even—and found something surprising.

“In addition to daily driving conditions, we are measuring stress levels under a variety of daily activities: at home, in the office, while having breakfast or attending a lecture at MIT.” said Kael Greco, project leader at MIT SENSEable City Laboratory. “We found that certain driving situations can be one of the most stressful activities in our lives.”

For example, based on the indicators studied here, the researchers suggested that getting sideswiped was about as stressful as jumping out of an airplane.

The findings, which will eventually be published in a peer-reviewed journal, represent data collected in the Boston area over a twelve-month period.

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