The value of parental influence and involvement
The parenting style and driving habits of parents help shape the mold for a young driver’s behaviours behind the wheel. Not only are parents often the primary driving teacher for young drivers, but their own driving style, viewed by their child since an early age, helps set the tone for what is acceptable on the road.
Children begin learning about driving as soon as they are placed in a forward-facing car seat. For instance, if a father always wears his seatbelt when his son is in the car, his son is much more likely to do the same, even when his father is not present.1 It has also been suggested that genetics plays a role in this influence and a parent’s characteristics (e.g., temper, aggression) may be present in their young child on the road. For example, studies reveal that a parent’s driving record can predict that of their child, meaning that when a parent has two or three crashes on their record it is much more likely their child will also be involved in a crash2.
The good news is that parents can help to reduce their child’s crash risk in many different ways. Parents are the deciding factor in whether or not a teen has access to the family vehicle and under what conditions. They can help minimize the risks that their young driver is exposed to by managing whether and when they are able to have friends in the car, or can use the car on a highway3. Parents can weigh the positives and negatives of safety versus mobility by deciding how much freedom the young driver can have, under what conditions, and in what vehicle to help minimize risks and protect them from dangers on the roadway.
Safety issues and driving behaviours unique to young drivers
There are many road safety issues to consider and parents are encouraged to familiarize themselves with how these issues are related to the driving behaviours of young drivers. An overview of how these issues are unique to young drivers is provided below.
Distracted driving occurs when a driver’s attention is diverted away from driving because they are focused on something non-driving related. Examples of distractions include:
Distractions can be either inside the vehicle (e.g., passengers, food, cell phones) or outside the vehicle (e.g., billboards and road signs, scenery, vehicles stopped on roadside).
Young drivers make up a disproportionate number of distracted drivers involved in crashes. In the United States, young drivers make up only 6% of the licenced driver population but they account for 13% of the drivers involved in a distracted driving crash. About 985,000 drivers under the age of 21 were involved in a distracted driving-related crash within the last five years. Similarly, about 1.7 million drivers (23%) in their twenties have had a distraction-related crash5. This is likely because the younger the driver, the more likely they are to engage in distractions within their vehicle6.
Visit our Issues section on distracted driving and teens to learn more.
There are two types of sleep-related driving impairments that can affect driving ability:
Young drivers and specifically young males are most likely to be driving late at night and to be sleep deprived because of their busy lifestyle (work, school, socializing). Drivers that are younger than 25 years of age are the most at risk for fatigue-related crashes. Of drivers ages 20 to 24, 35% reported nodding off while driving and 28% of 16 to 19 year olds reported the same. This is the largest proportion of all the driver age groups that are at risk for fatigue.
Visit our Issues section on fatigued driving and teens to learn more.
Alcohol and drug impaired driving
Several studies show that between 10% and 20% of young drivers self-report driving within an hour of having two or more drinks10 and a survey of Canadian high school students showed that 21% had driven at least once within an hour of using drugs. When asked if the students had been a passenger in a vehicle where the driver had used drugs 50% answered yes11. This means that almost one-fifth of young drivers have driven either drunk or high and a larger amount have driven with an impaired driver, increasing their already high chances of crashing.
The Federal Criminal Code of Canada (CCC) contains a law that makes it illegal for all drivers to operate a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or a drug, or a combination of both12. Young drivers in particular are also subject to graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs in all jurisdictions. This means that young drivers without full driving privileges, or is some jurisdictions (e.g., MB, ON, NB) up to the age of 21, cannot have any amount of alcohol in their system (0.0 BAC) and could lose their licence and face other penalties if caught driving with alcohol or drugs in their system.
Visit our Issues section on drinking and driving and teens to learn more.
Visit our Issues section on drugs, driving and teens to learn more.
Young drivers are at a high risk for fatal injury and death due to speed-related crashes and account for a disproportionate number of drivers involved in such crashes. Transport Canada reports that from 2002-2004, 40% of drivers in fatal crashes involving speeding were aged 16-2413. There is very strong evidence which shows that speed increases crash risk. For instance, a 1% increase in speed increases a driver’s fatality risk by 4%-12%14. An increase in speed by 15 km/h on a road increases the fatality rate of drivers by 10%. Although all types of drivers have been known to speed, young drivers and male drivers are over-represented in speed-related crashes15. Young drivers do not necessarily perceive driving five to ten kilometres over the speed limit to be dangerous, but this actually significantly increases their risk of crashing.
Visit our Issues section on speeding and teens to learn more.
The younger the driver, the less likely it is they will wear their seatbelt: Young males and drivers aged 18-24 are the least likely groups of drivers to wear seatbelts16. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the U.S. considers seatbelts to be the single most important protective mechanism available to adult vehicle occupants17 and found that belts reduce risk of serious injuries to the head, chest and extremities by 50%- 83%18.
Parents can set a good example by wearing their own seatbelts as well as buckling up any children in the vehicle. Drivers who do use seatbelts are more likely to buckle up their children. This is a crucial time to begin teaching the importance of seatbelts to young passengers – risky behaviours developed in childhood continue in adolescence and adulthood. If children are buckled up as soon as they are no longer using a car seat, the behaviour will become a habit and they will be much more likely to buckle up when they are older and no longer under parental supervision19.
Visit our Issues section on teens and seatbelts to learn more.
The brain is not fully developed until about age 25. The last part of the brain to develop is the frontal lobe, which is in charge of executive functions such as, planning, impulse control, reasoning and integration of information. Because the frontal lobe is the last part of the brain to develop, adolescents will have more difficulty with mental tasks that involve thinking clearly, decision- making and controlling impulses - all abilities needed to safely operate a vehicle. The impulsive part of the brain, on the other hand, is almost fully developed during adolescence. This leads to the reckless behaviour that adolescents are commonly known for, such as thrill-seeking, irrational decisions and dangerous behaviours20, such as drinking and driving.
More about brain development, teens and driving will be available soon.
Here are more resources available to help facilitate a positive young driver-parent relationship:
Adlaf, E.M., Mann, R.E., Paglia, A. (2003). Drinking, cannabis use and driving among Ontario students. Research letter. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 168(5).
Bianchi, A., Summala, H. (2004). The ‘genetics’ of driving behavior: parents’ driving style predicts their children’s driving style. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 36(4), 655-659.
Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA). (2011). Cross Canada Report on Student Alcohol and Drug Use. Technical Report. Student Drug Use Surveys Working Group. Ottawa, Canada.
Department of Justice Canada. (2012). The Criminal Code of Canada. Retrieve from: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-46/page-118.html#docCont.
Durbin, D.R., Smith, R., Kallan, M.J., Elliott, M.R., Winston, F.K. (2007) Seat belt use among 13-15 year olds in primary and secondary enforcement law states. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 39(3), 524-529.
European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT). (2006). Young Drivers: The Road to Safety. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Paris, France.
Evans, L. (2006) Traffic safety (2nd ed.). Bloomfield Hills, MI: Science Serving Society.
Ferguson, S.A., Williams, A.F., Chapline, J.F., Reinfurt, M.D., De Leonardis, D.M. (2001). Relationship of parent driving record to the driving records of their children. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 33(2), 229-234.
Ialomiteanu, A.R., Adlaf, E.M., Rehm, J. (2011). Addiction and Mental Health Indicators Among Ontario Adults, 1977-2009. CAMH Research Document Series No.31. Toronto, Ontario: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC). (2006). Seatbelts. Road Safety. Injury Research.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). (2004). Status Report: Many risky beginners aren’t driving the most crashworthy vehicles. 39(8), 1-8.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). (2010). Distracted Driving and Driver, Roadway, and Environmental Factors. September 2010. DOT HS 811 380. U.S Department of Transportation. Washington, DC.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). (March 2006). Drowsy Driving and Automobile Crashes. NCSDR/NHTSA Expert Panel on Drive and Fatigue and Sleepiness.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2008). Traffic safety facts: 2006 data
Paglia-Boak, A., Mann, R.E., Adlaf, E.M., Rehm, J. (2009). Drug Use Among Ontario Students, 1977-2009: OSDUHS highlights. CAMH Research Document Series No. 28. Toronto, ON: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Ranney, T.A. (2008). Driver Distraction: A Review of the Current State of Knowledge. Technical Report DOT HS 810 810 787. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. U.S. Department of Transportation. Washington D.C.
Robertson, R., Holmes, E., Vanlaar, W. (2009). The Facts About Fatigued Driving in Ontario: A guidebook for police. Traffic Injury Research Foundation. Ottawa, Canada.
Rothe, J.P., Kokotilo, T. (2005). Impaired driving as lifestyle for 18-29-year-old Alberta Drivers: Telephone Survey Findings. Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research. October 12, 2005.
Strine, T.W., Beck, L.F., Bolen, J., Okoro, C., Dhingra, S., Balluz, L. (2010). Geographic and sociodemographic variation in self-reported seat-belt use in the United States. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 42(4), 1067-1071.
Transport Canada. (2008). A Quick Look at Speeding Crashes in Canada. Road and Motor Vehicle Safety. Retrieved from: http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/roadsafety/tp-tp2436-rs200807-menu-158.htm.
Williams, A.F., Leaf, W.A., Simons-Morton, B.G., Hartos, J.L. (2006). Vehicles Driven by Teenagers in Their First Year of Licensure. Traffic Injury Prevention. 7(1), 23-30.