Scents can send drivers to distraction

Related tags Odor Olfaction

Fragrance manufacturers will be taking note of a recent study
carried out in the US assessing the impact of different scents on
driving ability. While camomile and lavender are out and coffee and
lemon are in, certain aftershaves and perfumes are said to be
distracting to concentration, reports Simon Pitman.

According to the study, the findings of which have been used by the UK-based motoring organisation RAC Foundation to highlight road safety hazards, having the wrong smell in a car can cause speeding, dozing, road rage and potentially even serious accidents, as different scents have varying affects on a driver's mood.

Having the right smell can help a driver to recognise dangers earlier, stay focused on the road ahead, forgive other peoples' driving errors and more genial feelings in general.

Following the findings of a study into odours and driving conducted at the West Virginia Wheeling Jesuit University, the RAC Foundation conducted its own research 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 said: "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 of when driving include chamomile, jasmine and lavender which are used to treat insomnia and, ironically, are often found in many car air freshners.

The report also highlights that, as well as distracting odours such as the smell of freshly cut grass and leather seats, certain perfumes and aftershaves can have a distractive effect on both male and female drivers. Accordingly, a strong sense is said to divert the driver's attention to more 'carnal' matters.

Smells said to be beneficial to driving include invigorating or stimulating odours. These includes peppermint and cinnamon, which are said to improve concentration, lemon and coffee, which aid new car thinking and even the smell of sea air.

Drivers tend to become de-sensitised to the smell of their own cars so become less aware of how it might affect their mood and also the mood of any other person that drives in it.

Indicative of the importance of car ambiance, and in particular its smell, is the fact that designers have been developing an in-car system capable of detecting a driver's mood and state of anxiety and automatically altering the vehicle's seating position, lighting and temperature and smell to accommodate this.

The system is designed to release either an invigorating or a calming smell, depending on the driver's mood.

Fragrance manufacturers, who invest significant research and development into the affect of different scents on human behaviour every year, will no doubt be considering the study's findings for the development of car freshners, but whether or not this will also see the development of aftershaves or perfumes developed with drivers in mind is another question.

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