May 7, 2008 -- Teen drivers may have a blind spot when it comes to recognizing common road safety risks.
A new survey of more than 5,000 high school students suggests that although teen drivers generally understand common road safety risks -- like driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol -- few recognize these hazards in real life or know how they interact with their own inexperience.
"Although inexperience is the known factor interacting with other risk factors and conditions to create crashes, teenagers do not recognize what merits "experience," researcher Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and colleagues write in Pediatrics. "Although 60% believed that inexperience heavily influences safety, only 15% reported exposure to inexperienced drivers in a sample that solely included passengers and young drivers that would be considered inexperienced by experts."
Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death and acquired disability among adolescents. Researchers say young, inexperienced drivers account for more than their fair share of accidents, but little is known about what teen drivers consider a road safety risk.
Researchers say by learning more about what teen drivers consider road safety risks, parents and public health experts can make their teen driver safety messages more relevant.
What Teen Drivers Think Is Risky
In the study, researchers surveyed 5,665 high school students from 68 schools in the U.S. about their perspectives on road safety in the spring of 2006.
The results showed teens ranked drinking while driving as the greatest road safety risk, but only 12% say they witness it often.
The next most commonly cited road safety hazards were text messaging, racing, marijuana use, and road rage.
Researchers say that teen drivers appeared to be aware of specific road safety risks but often didn't recognize more general threats.
For example, paying attention to misbehaving "wild" passengers in the car was regarded as a significant risk by 65% of teens, but only 10% thought having other teenagers in the car made a big difference to road safety.
Talking on a cell phone while driving was considered a significant hazard by only 28% of teens, while text messaging was considered hazardous by 79%. Researchers say teen drivers did not consider cell phones particularly risky unless their use provoked an emotional response.
The results also showed that certain groups may not be getting the message about common teen driver safety risks. White youths viewed speeding as less risky than other groups and said that they witnessed it more often than African-American and Hispanic teens did.
African-American and Hispanic teens viewed drinking alcohol while driving as less risky than white youths and reported seeing it more often than their white counterparts did.