Phoenix, Arizona - Motorists who follow a friend in a car are more likely to take risks and drive dangerously because they fear getting lost, research reveals.

They drive faster, make more erratic turns and faster lane changes just to keep up, American psychologists report.

Researchers at Arizona State University recruited students with valid driving licences and tested them on a driving simulator. They were asked to drive wherever they wanted in a city environment to get an idea of their basic behaviour.

That was compared with how they drove when guided by a navigation system and their behaviour when asked to ‘follow your friend in the car in front’.

Worryingly, when confronted with hazards in the ‘following a friend’ test, the drivers were more likely to cut in front of a pedestrian crossing a road and speed through traffic lights turning red.

The simulation eliminated the contagious effect where motorists are influenced by the bad driving of those around them.

Professor Robert Gray said: "We have found that when someone is asked to follow another vehicle, it can lead to them engaging in risky behaviour, such as driving faster, making more erratic turns and following too close to the car in front. This is most likely caused by a fear of getting lost.

"We observed changes in behaviour that increased the likelihood of being involved in an accident."

Professor Gray has some very simple advice for those likely to break the law.

"If you are faced with this situation, get the address from the lead driver and use a map or navigation device so you know how to get there yourself," he suggests.

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