17 January 2020

Which Physicians Speed?

Welcome back. Since you’re reading this post and I hope following this blog, you’re no doubt on the upper end of the intelligence spectrum. You know, for example, that you can learn about any topic, even if you can’t remember or never learned the location of the nearest library. You have the internet.

Is that a physician stopped for
speeding? How fast was he going?
What is his medical specialty?

(photo from evidentiarymatters.com/?m=201307).
Of course, some topics, especially those reviewed here, are rather new and require more digging. And then some have just never been addressed. How frustrating when it’s something you’ve always wondered about, such as today’s topic: Do speeding, luxury car ownership and leniency by police differ across physician specialties?

We’ve finally got answers thanks to researchers affiliated with Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital and the National Bureau of Economic Research. Their assessment was predicated upon (1) driving behavior and luxury car ownership have been linked to personality, (2) many people believe there’s a link between personality and a physician's specialty and (3) some specialists interact more with police in their work (e.g., emergency medicine), which could influence leniency.

Speeding Ticket Review
The researchers matched publicly available records on speeding tickets and physicians and, for comparison, non-physicians, who were issued one or more speeding tickets in Florida, 2004-2017. Speed was recorded on 38% of the physicians’ tickets and car make on 64%.

They broke the data down by medical specialty and took account of age and sex, which are correlated with specialty. Tickets issued to physicians younger than 30 were excluded as those might have been issued before the drivers became physicians.

The analysis focused on rates of speeding and extreme speeding (exceeding the speed limit by more than 20 mph), luxury car ownership (e.g., Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Maserati and Porsche) and police officer leniency, which was defined as recording speeds just below the threshold at which a larger fine would otherwise be imposed ("speed discounting").

Speeding tickets issued to physicians in Florida, 2004-2017 (from www.bmj.com/content/bmj/367/bmj.l6354.full.pdf).
Do Physicians or Specialties Differ?
The study sample included 5,372 physicians, issued 14,560 tickets, and 19,639 non-physicians, issued 63,382 tickets. The proportion of drivers ticketed for extreme speeding was almost identical for physicians and non-physicians, 26.4% vs. 26.8%, respectively. (Of interest, one third of physicians in the U.S. are female, yet female physicians were issued only 18.5% of tickets for extreme speeding.)

Speeding was broadly similar across medical specialties, and extreme speeding was common, accounting for one quarter of physicians’ tickets. Psychiatrists were the most likely to be ticketed for extreme speeding. (The prize, however, went to one general internist who was ticketed at 70 mph over the limit.)

Unlike speeding, luxury car ownership by physicians who received a speeding ticket was quite different across specialties. Luxury cars were most commonly being driven by cardiologists and least commonly being driven by those in emergency medicine, family practice, pediatrics, general surgery and psychiatry.

Leniency by police was common, but it did not differ by specialty or between physicians and non-physicians.

Wrap Up
The researchers point out that, being an observational study based on speeding in Florida, cause cannot be established, unmeasured factors may have had an influence and the results may vary in areas with different driving cultures, demographics or policing practices.

So, while the study provides answers we’ve always wondered about, there’s no guarantee those answers apply in your or my neck of the woods. Drive safely and thanks for stopping by.


Study of physician driving behaviors in The British Journal of Medicine (BMJ): www.bmj.com/content/bmj/367/bmj.l6354.full.pdf
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-12/b-pml121619.php

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