Learning hazard recognition among adolescents takes much longer than learning vehicle operation skills.Compared with older adolescents (18-24 years old), young adolescents (adolescents aged 10-17 years old) behave much more riskily. But inexperience can play a major role in this, so according to research by the SWOV. Adolescents, especially boys, are relatively more likely to die because of traffic accidents.
To become more proficient in dealing with complex traffic situations, practice makes perfect. Therefore, it is important to train adolescents’ skills, such as through sufficient driving lessons. For example, one study examined the behavior of young cyclists (ages 11-13) in close proximity to trucks and how they took into account trucks’ blind spots.
This showed that the majority of young people could correctly point out blind spots, but the translation of this knowledge into practical choices was very poor, especially in complex traffic situations. Incidentally, boys did not differ from girls in this.
“This study illustrates that inexperience can be an important component in young people’s risk behavior in complex traffic situations. And that in addition to vehicle operation, higher-order skills, such as risk perception, are especially essential in this,” reports SWOV in the fact sheet ‘Risky traffic behavior among adolescents.
“These higher-order skills develop much more slowly than those for vehicle operation. Probably this lack of experience of this age group also plays an important role in moped unsafety, especially with regard to higher-order skills,” the researchers said.
“Furthermore, due to their physical and mental development, adolescents are more attracted to dangerous challenges, more sensitive to peer pressure, and have less self-control and oversight than older adolescents. This is also reflected in traffic.”
Youths vs. girls
In surveys, young men are more likely than young women to say they behave riskily in traffic. Peers also influence risky behavior. Because it is increasingly important for them to belong to a group, young people in the company of peers are more likely to engage in risky behavior than when they are alone.
Virtually no research has been done in the Netherlands on the role of peer pressure in traffic. Research in the US among 16-17-year-old drivers shows that they often behaved more riskily with peers as passengers than alone. Incidentally, peer pressure is not the only possible explanation for this. An alternative explanation is the increase in distraction caused by the presence of passengers.
Risky behavior is caused by: brain development, perceived invulnerability, social environment, impulsivity, behavioral intentions and routines. In addition to adversely affecting youth safety, brain development does have a beneficial impact on youth learning ability.
As a result, young people can learn new skills much better than adults, feel more challenged and can more easily reach top levels in them as well. This could then also apply to teaching the skills needed for safe behavior in traffic.
Confidence in skills
Other explanations for risky behavior focus less on the physiological and more on the psychological factors, such as lack of knowledge, “dangerous” beliefs, and (too) high confidence in one’s own abilities. An important factor in this is the estimation of the probability that a hazard will occur, and the probability that it will affect you.
“It is often assumed that adolescents underestimate both and therefore behave more riskily than adults,” the researchers say. “However, when adolescents are asked about the likelihood of dying from risky behavior, their estimates turn out to be unrealistically high. Offering the ‘correct numbers’ or providing ‘hard realistic’ education against this background would only be counterproductive.”
Furthermore, the study shows that boys are more likely than girls to, for example, not think it is as important to obey the rules, not think it is as bad to participate in traffic under the influence, and feel less responsible for the safety of others.
Adolescents do not yet have car licenses, may obtain moped licenses at age 16, and usually travel as pedestrians, cyclists or car passengers. So while they are not yet exposed to the major dangers of driving, recent brain research indicates that young adolescents do behave more riskily than older adolescents aged 18 to 24.
A further distinction by mode of transportation shows that of traffic fatalities aged 10 to 17, 26% die as car passengers, 27% as moped riders, 35% as bicyclists and 8% as pedestrians.