Participating In The Shell UK Driving Experiment

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I like to think that I’m a good driver – although that’s hardly surprising as there probably aren’t many people out there who would actively admit to being a bad driver. I reckon I have the evidence to back this statement up though. I passed my driving test at 17 with just three minors, I’ve never been involved in an accident and I’ve had an unblemished driving record since getting my licence.

OK, so I might have done a speed awareness course in 2016 after being caught doing 26mph in a 20mph zone and I did fail my first driving test for going the wrong way at a junction, but I have excuses that allow me to call them “learning experiences” rather than “driving mistakes”.

Still, considering the number of miles I’ve clocked up and the amount of hours I’ve spent behind the wheel in the last 16 years, I would certainly put myself up there as a competent, careful and considerate driver. Although my folks, who are driving instructors, would probably say otherwise!

For me, driving is a means of getting from Point A to Point B. It’s something I’m happy to do, but I wouldn’t say that it’s something I enjoy – it’s just a better option than getting public transport. Whereas in the past I used to spend a lot of time driving on my own, these days I’m little more than a glorified taxi with the sole purpose of ferrying the kids from one place to another.

I’m fine with that, but it doesn’t really mean that the journey can be described as pleasurable or enjoyable. Being on my own in the car meant that I could listen to the footy or stick on a shouty and sweary Emo CD, whereas these days my soundtrack is pretty much made up of a baby crying, a preschooler asking too many questions or some music from Frozen, Trolls or The Wiggles.

Participating In The UK Shell Driving Experiment view from behind steering wheel

Since becoming a dad, I do think more about my driving – it’s only natural to take a more measured and cautious approach when you have your family in the car. That’s not to say that I’m a totally different driver when I’m on my own, but there’s probably more of a tendency to take a risk when it’s just me.

Although I’m more considered when they’re in the car, it can have negative impacts too though. I’m sure that I’m not alone in being momentarily distracted when behind the wheel because of something kid-related – looking in the mirror for a bit too long to check that the baby is still breathing, reaching around to retrieve a dropped toy or smacking your head against the steering wheel because you’ve been told the same joke fifty times in a row.

As driving is such a key part of my existence, I was really interested to not only hear about, but also be asked to partake in, a driving study with Shell. Tracking and measuring performance is now pretty common place when it comes to other areas of life like exercise or sleep, but not really driving. As such, I thought it’d be pretty cool to participate in the Shell UK Driving Experiment to help uncover findings about myself and the nation’s drivers.

What’s The Shell UK Driving Experiment?

During a two-week period over Easter, I was one of 400(ish) UK-based drivers who took part in a unique social experiment devised by Shell and Goldsmiths, University of London. By tracking real people taking real journeys, the goal was to understand what motorists experience on the road and therefore establish the factors that inhibit driver performance.

This was achieved by using the latest in driver tracking technology, chatbots, weather and traffic information to understand how different factors – including diet, health and fitness, sleep, music, weather, passengers and even the purpose of the journey – ultimately affect driver mood, performance and efficiency on the road. By understanding this stuff, Shell can then help improve them.

Participating In The UK Shell Driving Experiment starting journey on shell app

What Did The UK Shell Driving Experiment Involve?

Prior to the study, participants were required to undertake a personality quiz. This was then analysed to create our individual motorist profiles based on identifying our lifestyle habits, natural reactions, attitudes and personality types.

Once the study begun, each driver was just required to go about their daily routines and drive as they normally would. However, a few additional things were put into place in order to capture and track all of the relevant data needed for the experiment.

Firstly, we wore an emotion tracking wristband (37º Journey Wristband) which monitored biometric information such as heart rate, breath rate, sleep, steps, emotional state and mood. There was also a cool, little mobile app that allowed me to check out some of the data that was being recorded – although, to be honest, I didn’t really understand what most of it meant!

Participating In The UK Shell Driving Experiment 37 Degrees app screenshots

Next, there was a Shell Driving Experiment Chatbot that we interacted with before and after each journey. This was done via Facebook Messenger and asked a range of questions, to which we provided an answer from a predefined list of responses.

Participating In The UK Shell Driving Experiment chatbot screenshots

Finally, there was the Shell Motorist App which I started manually whenever I got behind the wheel. The app tracked things like GPS location, journey duration, speed, harsh breaking and acceleration, then gave a unique performance and efficiency score for each journey undertaken. Again, the app allowed you to look into the data in more detail.

Participating In The UK Shell Driving Experiment shell app screenshots

After the two weeks were up, there was the mammoth job of analysing all of the data collected through the experiment. As well as the above driver-related information, real-time traffic updates captured from Here Maps and live weather conditions from World Weather Online were thrown into the mix to see the impact on driver performance and efficiency.

Luckily, I had nothing to do with analysing any of this information, so I could blissfully crack on with my life in the knowledge that someone else was doing the hard work behind the scenes. And, man, it must have been hard work – in total, the experiment captured 430,000 data points from 419 drivers who had completed 3,869 journeys covering 229,884 miles!

Fast forward a few months, I received an email with the results – this included findings from the experiment as a whole, as well as my individual driver summary.

Shell UK Driving Experiment Results And Findings – Individual

I was provided with an individual driver results summary based on my personality traits and the data captured during my journeys. Interesting points included:

  • I have two dominant personality traits – conscientiousness and openness. This means that I am likely to be motivated, inclined to follow the rules and am accepting of creative or abstract ideas. Interestingly, Openness is a personality trait shared with high performing UK drivers (more on that in the next section) who are inherently adventurous and open to creative possibilities and outcomes on the road.
  • I scored higher than average for stress and distraction behind the wheel – that’s something that I think I can attribute to the kids!
  • I ranked lower than average in a number of driving performance-related areas, such as enjoyment, safety and efficiency. In fact, my driving enjoyment score was half of the study average suggesting I get very little enjoyment out of driving!
  • I also scored lower in a number of ‘mood’ areas, including sad, worried, scared, mad and happy. This perhaps suggests that driving doesn’t really impact my mood as much as it does with other people.

These results don’t actually surprise me too much. With kids in the car, it makes sense that I’m probably more stressed and distracted than the average driver – a baby crying or a preschooler asking questions can have an impact. In turn, this probably has knock-on effects when it comes to my enjoyment of driving and safety – although I’m hardly an unsafe driver, particularly with the family in the car. Finally, I’ve never been one to let emotions get to me when driving, so I’m not surprised that I score lower on the scale than others when it comes to different moods.

Shell UK Driving Experiment Results And Findings – Overall

In addition to my individual driver results summary, there were a number of overall findings that came out of the experiment – here’s a few that interested me:

  • Wellness is a priority: Many UK motorists take active measures to combat stress and low mood to improve their emotional state by making wellness a priority – for instance, taking time to relax, eating a nutritious diet and getting enough sleep, so that drivers prevent stress and low mood before they get into the car.
  • The social butterfly drives better: Drivers who were outgoing, social, gregarious and enjoyed team activities were found to have less stress behind the wheel and more efficient journeys. They also reported safer experiences in the car and enjoyed driving more. Similarly, those who were open, creative and actively seek adventure reported higher levels of enjoyment while driving and more efficient journeys.
  • Food-to-go: Drivers who consistently took snacks on the go and hot beverages with them in the car reported more efficient journeys.
  • Fitness First: Drivers who did not exercise regularly, both before and during the experiment, had lower performance scores. Drivers who exercised to counteract how long they spent sitting in a car reported more efficient journeys, safer drives and more enjoyment behind the wheel.
  • Passengers: Drivers who commuted alone felt more stressed behind the wheel than drivers who commuted with passengers in the car. In fact, those who drove with passengers in the car also enjoyed their drives more and demonstrated better performance on the road, when compared with those who drove alone. Drivers who reported driving with children in the car also reported feeling safer behind the wheel, but slightly stressed.
  • Put the radio on: People who turned their radio on while driving to try to relax reported more efficient journeys and enjoyed their time behind the wheel.
  • Get your beauty sleep: Higher sleep quality is associated with less stress behind the wheel. Increased disruptions to your sleep the night before correlate to self-reported feelings of stress behind the wheel.
  • Love of the car: Drivers who were proud of their car were more efficient and safer drivers who enjoyed driving. In contrast, drivers who cared about the status of their car equally enjoyed driving but had lower driver performance.
  • Driving Terrain: Those who drove in rural areas had better driving performance, where as those who drove in suburban areas were mores stressed and distracted behind the wheel. Drivers who commuted primarily on motorways over other driving terrain reported feeling less safe and more stressed.
  • Enjoy the drive: Drivers who said they love driving had more enjoyable, efficient and safer journeys, with less stress and distraction behind the wheel.

Shell plans to use results such as these to highlight ways that drivers can perform better on the road and tailor their products and services to drivers, for instance, in-car experiences to make people’s journeys more enjoyable.

I think this sounds like a great idea. Anything that helps improve enjoyment of driving and driver performance can’t be a bad thing – judging by the state of some drivers on the road, improving driving performance is definitely needed!

So that was my involvement with the Shell UK Driving Experiment. It’s definitely made me think about my own driving, particularly around elements like safety and efficiency, plus it’s given me a few actionable insights, such as trying to get a good night’s sleep before a long journey or taking snacks with me on the road.

Disclosure: This is a commissioned post in collaboration with Shell.