British Columbia·THE SPEED FACTOR

For many, speeding is the 'drug of choice.' Why are we so addicted?

We ask a criminal psychologist and a pro race car driver to break down the allure of speed, it's dangers and why some of us can't get enough.

A psychologist and a professional race car driver break down the allure — and danger — of high speed

Chris Swinwood doesn't deny the appeal of driving fast — but after 25 years on the track, he knows how to do it safely. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

With 25 years of experience on the race track, it's safe to say that Chris Swinwood knows a thing or two about the allure of speed.

"Racing is my drug of choice," says Swinwood. "There is nothing else that gets me more pumped for anything."

For the veteran race car driver, there's nothing quite like the feeling of the G-forces pushing against your chest when you open up the throttle out of a tight turn.

Watch Swinwood make those turns at high speeds with CBC producer Matthew Lazin-Ryder in the car:

Hitting 180 km/h at Mission Raceway

4 years ago
Duration 1:00
Veteran race-car driver, coach and admitted speed freak, Chris Swinwood of GT Race Experience, took CBC producer Matthew Lazin-Ryder for a spin at Mission Raceway in a 2005 Ford Mustang GT.

But he knows the only reason he can handle top speeds in excess of 200 km/h is his years of experience — and the safe confines of the race course.

"Talk to any of the racers here," he says. "A great car is one thing, but that squishy bit that sits between the seat and the steering wheel — that makes all the difference." 

Like using a chainsaw

But what about the people who do their racing outside the track?

According to retired Simon Fraser University criminal psychologist Ehor Orest Boyanowsky, chronic speeders — especially young men — often have self-image issues and get feelings of empowerment from speeding.

"If at first you use a chainsaw, you're loathe to use it and you're watching the old guys and you're very, very careful," Boyanowsky said.

"And then you discover you're not going to have it immediately kick back and split your head.

"So you gain some sense of efficacy with it and you get overconfident. And this is what happens with relatively young and inexperienced drivers."

Listen to the psychology of why we speed:

Professional driver, closed course ...

Though Swinwood knows better than to break the speed limit in real life, he certainly understands the appeal. In fact, it's the reason he started his business, GT Race Experience, where drivers can get the feel of a real track at a Mission, B.C. raceway.

In 2011, RCMP impounded 13 high-end cars — Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis and more — after an alleged street race through the George Massey Tunnel in Metro Vancouver. Witnesses reported the cars reaching speeds as high as 200 km/h.

The incident prompted Swinwood to start a business where people could experience the thrill of high-speed driving in a safe, supervised environment.

"These guys need an avenue to get out and do this," he says. "They need somewhere to vent."

Chris Swinwood doesn't deny the appeal of driving fast but that's why he started a business where people could experience the thrill of high-speed driving in a safe, supervised environment. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Swinwood says that, after a day at Mission Raceway — the layout of which allows for a top speed of about 180 km/h — he's often the slowest one on the road on the drive home.

"You do it for eight hours in a day and you're physically exhausted," he says. "Sometimes I even struggle to make the speed limit."

At the wheel of his 2005 Ford Mustang GT, with its 4.6-litre V8 engine and special racing modifications, Chris Swinwood commands about 360 horsepower. At Mission Raceway, it tops out at about 180 km/h — limited primarily by the layout of the track. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

... do not attempt

For those that feel the need for speed, Swinwood heartily recommends getting involved in one of the Lower Mainland's many motorsport organizations, from go-karting all the way up to sports car clubs and racing schools.

Motorsports, he says, offer the adrenaline rush that only pure speed can bring in an environment that's safe for both drivers and the people around them.

He denounced the dangers of street racing.

"When it really comes down to is, how fast are you going? How fast can you actually stop? What are those limits of your car? What are your physical limits within yourself?" Swinwood says.

"Testing them on the road with other people around — you're not just risking yourself, you're risking everyone else around you."

Boyanowsky says combating speeding also means combating the macho image of the car.

He believes that could be a natural consequence of cars becoming more automated as technology improves.

Listen to Chris Swinwood explain the need for speed:

Chris Swinwood and CBC producer Matthew Lazin-Ryder go for a spin around the Mission Raceway. Swinwood says motorsports provide a safe way to experience the exhilaration of high-speed driving. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

With files from Matthew Lazin-Ryder and CBC Radio One's On The Coast


The Speed Factor is a CBC Radio One series taking a closer look at the impact of speed on car collisions in B.C. Tune in to On the Coast from March 12-16 at 5:05  p.m. PT. 

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