Doctoral defence: Tõnis Tokko “The association of risky traffic behaviour with personality factors, lifestyle and biological predisposition, and a driving school intervention aimed at impulsivity awareness”

On 1 June at 16:00 Tõnis Tokko will defenc his doctoral thesis “The association of risky traffic behaviour with personality factors, lifestyle and biological predisposition, and a driving school intervention aimed at impulsivity awareness” for obtaining the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (in Psychology).

Supervisors:
Professor Jaanus Harro, University of Tartu
Diva Eensoo, National Institute for Health Development

Opponent:
Professor Christian Montag, University of Ulm (Germany)

Summary
Risk-taking behaviour of drivers, a serious public health issue, is associated with a variety of factors like personality, lifestyle and biological predisposition. In addition to anger, aggressiveness and impulsivity, self-perceived ADHD symptoms were revealed as a significant risk factor in traffic, suggesting that sub-syndromal psychiatric disorders are an issue in traffic safety. Several aspects of lifestyle were associated with risk-taking and traffic law violations and variation in the serotonergic system appeared as a mediating and moderating factor. Drunk driving (DWI) reoccurred in approximately one third of previously identified DWI subjects who also had more traffic violations of other type. An impulsivity risk allele of the neuropeptide S receptor gene (NPSR1) contributed to the risk of repeatedly committing DWI, and carrying the risk allele of the dopamine transporter gene (DAT1) VNTR polymorphism was associated with more frequent drunk driving, traffic accidents and other traffic violations, consistently with the significant role of dopaminergic system in impulse control and risk-taking behaviour. The brief impulsivity self-recognition intervention conducted by driving school teachers had a significant impact on traffic safety similarly to the intervention previously conducted by psychologists, whereas self-reported ADHD symptoms did not reduce the efficacy of the intervention. Candidate gene variants were associated with the effectiveness of the intervention in females. In conclusion, established biological markers of impulsivity/aggressiveness can be reliably associated with everyday traffic behaviour and help in understanding the need for more personalized prevention activities. It would be beneficial to include a discussion in the drivers’ training about the risks mental health issues can present in traffic. Future studies should address the potential of online training instruments for intervention as online learning becomes more prevalent.