Young people taking risks in the drivers seat

Young people taking risks in the drivers seat

Media release — 15 April 2010

A new report has found young Australians in their mid-twenties are involved in risky driving behaviour including speeding; drink driving; not wearing a seatbelt; being under the influence of an illegal drug and using a mobile phone while driving.

The report In The Drivers Seat II – Beyond The Early Driving Years by the Australian Institute of Family Studies also found a marked increase in the level of drink driving among young people, up from 14 per cent when they were aged 19-20, to 23 per cent by the time they were 23-24.

The study – a collaborative research project with the Victorian Transport Accident Commission (TAC) and the RACV – reflects the driving habits of 1,000 Victorians aged 23-24, as part of the Australian Institute of Family Studies’ Australian Temperament Project. The research was carried out in two waves, four years’ apart, when the participants were 19-20 and 23-24.

The study showed 60 per cent of the 23-24 year olds had been involved in a crash while driving since gaining their licence, and more than 80 per cent had exceeded the speed limit during recent stints behind the wheel.

About two-thirds of young Australians aged between 23-24 had also driven while very tired or used a mobile phone to send or receive text messages while driving, with a further 55 per cent having talked on a hand-held mobile.

One in five had driven near – or over – the legal limit for alcohol use during the previous month.

Institute Director Professor Alan Hayes said the study provided valuable insights into young people’s driving behaviour patterns.

“Early adulthood can be a period of considerable risk-taking when the prevalence of substance abuse reaches a lifetime high, yet relatively little is known about drivers in their mid-twenties. We wanted to find out if people who engage in drink driving are more likely to engage in other types of risky driving and this was found to be true,” he said.

“Speeding, driving without a seatbelt, driving while fatigued, and driving under the influence of an illegal drug or while on a mobile were all considerably more common among young drink drivers than among other young drivers,” Professor Hayes said.

“Risky driving appears to be one element of a risk-taking lifestyle for a number of young people,” said the project’s lead author, Institute Research Fellow Suzanne Vassallo.

“The study aims to inform intervention efforts targeted at reducing risky driving among young drivers by providing valuable new evidence about the driving experiences and practices of young adults, and the personal, family and environmental factors associated with differing profiles of driving behaviour,” Ms Vassallo said.

“We also looked back to see if young people’s driving behaviour had improved. The last time we checked in with them, the study sample was aged 19-20. Comparing their behaviour then and now, we found that while there are signs of a small decline in risky driving overall, there was still a sizable increase in drink driving. This is dangerous because alcohol increases a driver’s risk of crashing six-fold.

“We found that parents can play an important role in their kids’ driving behaviour through the advice and support they give when young people buy a car.”

The report’s co-author Samantha Cockfield, the Road Safety Manager with the TAC said: “This study is invaluable to increasing our understanding of not only the way young people behave on the roads but also the key influencers in their lives such as parents, schools and their peers.”

“It helps road safety agencies like the TAC to develop new initiatives targeted at reducing risky driving among young drivers who continue to be over-represented in our road toll. Nationally, drivers aged from 17 to 25 represent around 24 per cent of deaths, despite representing only 13 per cent of the driver population,” Ms Cockfield said.

The RACV’s Chief Behavioural Scientist Anne Harris – another co-author of the report – said: “Young people who’ve been involved in multiple crashes as drivers had also been engaged in speeding or had driven when very tired.”

Overall trends:

  • Sixty per cent of young people had been involved in a crash, with crashes resulting in property damage the most common and crashes resulting in injury and death rare.
  • More than half had been caught speeding and about one in seven had come into police contact for a driving related offence in the past 12 months.
  • More than 80 per cent had exceeded the speed limit by up to 10 kilometres on at least one of their ten most recent trips and close to half by 11-25 kms per hour on at least one occasion.
  • About two thirds had driven when very tired or used a mobile phone to send or receive text messages when driving and around half had talked on a handheld mobile.
  • Other types of risky driving, such as driving affected by illegal drugs, were less common and ranged in incidence from two per cent to 14 per cent.

Gender differences:

  • Young men were more likely to have been apprehended for a driving offence than young women.
  • Young men were more likely to engage in several unsafe driving practices than young women including moderate and high-level speeding, and driving under the influence of alcohol.
  • Young women were more likely to drive when tired.
  • A higher percentage of young men than young women had driven when near or over the legal alcohol limit.

City and country differences:

  • Young people in metropolitan areas had more often been involved in a crash and had experienced more crashes on average than non-metropolitan 23-24 year olds.
  • Rates of hands free mobile use were higher among young people who live in metropolitan areas than those outside.
  • Non-metropolitan drivers were more likely to report that they’d not worn a seat belt when driving for part of a trip.
  • There were no significant difference in rates of drink driving, but avoidance strategies differed with young country people leaving the car behind and those in the city were more likely to alter their drinking habits.

Occupational status differences:

  • Young people in low, average and high-status occupations didn’t differ overall in their driving behaviour, with one exception - those in high-status occupations were less likely to engage in drink driving after making plans to avoid doing so.

Education level differences:

  • Young people with a university degree were less likely to have had their licence cancelled or suspended than those with another type of post secondary qualification.
  • Those with secondary education levels were more likely to have been fined or charged.
  • Young people with university degrees had been caught speeding on fewer occasions.
  • Young people with university degrees were less likely to have friends who were drink drivers or to drink drive themselves after making plans not to.
  • To avoid drink driving, those in the post secondary group were more likely to abstain from drinking while university educated young people were more likely to arrange alternative transport.

Risky driving over time:

  • Comparing the study members when they were 19-20 to now at 23-24 showed a modest decrease in speeding over this time.
  • Rates of drink driving increased substantially over this time period from 14 per cent at 19-20 to 23 per cent at 23-24.
  • Fewer young people drove without a seat belt in their mid twenties than when they were 19-20.

Stability of different types of risky driving among individuals:

  • The great majority of young people who didn’t engage in risky driving aged 19-20 continued not to do so at 23-24. Only four per cent of 19-24 year-olds who didn’t engage in high-level speeding, drive while affected by an illegal drug or drive without a helmet, did so at 23-24.
  • About a quarter of those who had often engaged in risky driving behaviour at 19-20 weren’t doing it any longer by the age of 23-24, and half were engaging in the behaviour less often.

Co-occurrence of drink driving and other types of risky driving:

  • While rates of driving when affected by an illegal drug were low overall, young drink drivers were 9.5 times more likely than their peers to have driven when affected by ecstasy and about six times more likely to have driving when affected by marijuana use and 4.5 times more likely to have driven when affected by amphetamines.
  • Rates of speeding and driving without a seatbelt were also much higher among young drink drivers, with drink drivers being four to five times more likely than their peers to engage in these behaviours on a recent driving trip.

Comparison of substance use among high-level risky drivers and other drivers:

  • Young people who engaged in high or moderately high level risky driving tended to have higher rates of substance use at 23-24 than young people of the same age who rarely engaged in unsafe driving.
  • Binge drinking, marijuana use, ecstasy use and amphetamine use were more prevalent among the high and moderate level groups than the low level group.
  • Strong links were found between risky driving and multiple substance use.

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