A comprehensive investigation of the risky driving behaviour of young novice drivers

Scott-Parker, Bridie Jean (2012) A comprehensive investigation of the risky driving behaviour of young novice drivers. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


Young novice drivers - that is, drivers aged 16-25 years who are relatively inexperienced in driving on the road and have a novice (Learner, Provisional) driver's licence - have been overrepresented in car crash, injury and fatality statistics around the world for decades. There are numerous persistent characteristics evident in young novice driver crashes, fatalities and offences, including variables relating to the young driver themselves, broader social influences which include their passengers, the car they drive, and when and how they drive, and their risky driving behaviour in particular. Moreover, there are a range of psychosocial factors influencing the behaviour of young novice drivers, including the social influences of parents and peers, and person-related factors such as age-related factors, attitudes, and sensation seeking.

Historically, a range of approaches have been developed to manage the risky driving behaviour of young novice drivers. Traditional measures predominantly relying upon education have had limited success in regulating the risky driving behaviour of the young novice driver. In contrast, interventions such as graduated driver licensing (GDL) which acknowledges young novice drivers' limitations - principally pertaining to their chronological and developmental age, and their driving inexperience - have shown to be effective in ameliorating this pervasive public health problem. In practice, GDL is a risk management tool that is designed to reduce driving at risky times (e.g., at night) or in risky driving conditions (e.g., with passengers), while still enabling novice drivers to obtain experience. In this regard, the GDL program in Queensland, Australia, was considerably enhanced in July 2007, and major additions to the program include mandated Learner practice of 100 hours recorded in a logbook, and passenger limits during night driving in the Provisional phase. Road safety researchers have also continued to consider the influential role played by the young driver's psychosocial characteristics, including psychological traits and states. In addition, whilst the majority of road safety user research is epidemiological in nature, contemporary road safety research is increasingly applying psychological and criminological theories. Importantly, such theories not only can guide young novice driver research, they can also inform the development and evaluation of countermeasures targeting their risky driving behaviour. The research is thus designed to explore the self-reported behaviours - and the personal, psychosocial, and structural influences upon the behaviours - of young novice drivers This thesis incorporates three stages of predominantly quantitative research to undertake a comprehensive investigation of the risky driving behaviour of young novices. Risky driving behaviour increases the likelihood of the young novice driver being involved in a crash which may harm themselves or other road users, and deliberate risky driving such as driving in excess of the posted speed limits is the focus of the program of research. The extant literature examining the nature of the risky behaviour of the young novice driver - and the contributing factors for this behaviour - while comprehensive, has not led to the development of a reliable instrument designed specifically to measure the risky behaviour of the young novice driver. Therefore the development and application of such a tool (the Behaviour of Young Novice Drivers Scale, or BYNDS) was foremost in the program of research. In addition to describing the driving behaviours of the young novice, a central theme of this program of research was identifying, describing, and quantifying personal, behavioural, and environmental influences upon young novice driver risky behaviour. Accordingly the 11 papers developed from the three stages of research which comprise this thesis are framed within Bandura's reciprocal determinism model which explicitly considers the reciprocal relationship between the environment, the person, and their behaviour.

Stage One comprised the foundation research and operationalised quantitative and qualitative methodologies to finalise the instrument used in Stages Two and Three. The first part of Stage One involved an online survey which was completed by 761 young novice drivers who attended tertiary education institutions across Queensland. A reliable instrument for measuring the risky driving behaviour of young novices was developed (the BYNDS) and is currently being operationalised in young novice driver research in progress at the Centre for Injury Research and Prevention in Philadelphia, USA. In addition, regression analyses revealed that psychological distress influenced risky driving behaviour, and the differential influence of depression, anxiety, sensitivity to punishments and rewards, and sensation seeking propensity were explored. Path model analyses revealed that punishment sensitivity was mediated by anxiety and depression; and the influence of depression, anxiety, reward sensitivity and sensation seeking propensity were moderated by the gender of the driver. Specifically, for males, sensation seeking propensity, depression, and reward sensitivity were predictive of self-reported risky driving, whilst for females anxiety was also influential. In the second part of Stage One, 21 young novice drivers participated in individual and small group interviews. The normative influences of parents, peers, and the Police were explicated. Content analysis supported four themes of influence through punishments, rewards, and the behaviours and attitudes of parents and friends. The Police were also influential upon the risky driving behaviour of young novices. The findings of both parts of Stage One informed the research of Stage Two.

Stage Two was a comprehensive investigation of the pre-Licence and Learner experiences, attitudes, and behaviours, of young novice drivers. In this stage, 1170 young novice drivers from across Queensland completed an online or paper survey exploring their experiences, behaviours and attitudes as a pre- and Learner driver. The majority of novices did not drive before they were licensed (pre-Licence driving) or as an unsupervised Learner, submitted accurate logbooks, intended to follow the road rules as a Provisional driver, and reported practicing predominantly at the end of the Learner period. The experience of Learners in the enhanced-GDL program were also examined and compared to those of Learner drivers who progressed through the former-GDL program (data collected previously by Bates, Watson, & King, 2009a). Importantly, current-GDL Learners reported significantly more driving practice and a longer Learner period, less difficulty obtaining practice, and less offence detection and crash involvement than Learners in the former-GDL program. The findings of Stage Two informed the research of Stage Three.

Stage Three was a comprehensive exploration of the driving experiences, attitudes and behaviours of young novice drivers during their first six months of Provisional 1 licensure. In this stage, 390 of the 1170 young novice drivers from Stage Two completed another survey, and data collected during Stages Two and Three allowed a longitudinal investigation of self-reported risky driving behaviours, such as GDL-specific and general road rule compliance; risky behaviour such as pre-Licence driving, crash involvement and offence detection; and vehicle ownership, paying attention to Police presence, and punishment avoidance. Whilst the majority of Learner and Provisional drivers reported compliance with GDL-specific and general road rules, 33% of Learners and 50% of Provisional drivers reported speeding by 10-20 km/hr at least occasionally. Twelve percent of Learner drivers reported pre-Licence driving, and these drivers were significantly more risky as Learner and Provisional drivers. Ten percent of males and females reported being involved in a crash, and 10% of females and 18% of males had been detected for an offence, within the first six months of independent driving. Additionally, 75% of young novice drivers reported owning their own car within six months of gaining their Provisional driver's licence. Vehicle owners reported significantly shorter Learner periods and more risky driving exposure as a Provisional driver. Paying attention to Police presence on the roads appeared normative for young novice drivers: 91% of Learners and 72% of Provisional drivers reported paying attention. Provisional drivers also reported they actively avoided the Police: 25% of males and 13% of females; 23% of rural drivers and 15% of urban drivers. Stage Three also allowed the refinement of the risky behaviour measurement tool (BYNDS) created in Stage One; the original reliable 44-item instrument was refined to a similarly reliable 36-item instrument.

A longitudinal exploration of the influence of anxiety, depression, sensation seeking propensity and reward sensitivity upon the risky behaviour of the Provisional driver was also undertaken using data collected in Stages Two and Three. Consistent with the research of Stage One, structural equation modeling revealed anxiety, reward sensitivity and sensation seeking propensity predicted self-reported risky driving behaviour. Again, gender was a moderator, with only reward sensitivity predicting risky driving for males. A measurement model of Akers' social learning theory (SLT) was developed containing six subscales operationalising the four constructs of differential association, imitation, personal attitudes, and differential reinforcement, and the influence of parents and peers was captured within the items in a number of these constructs. Analyses exploring the nature and extent of the psychosocial influences of personal characteristics (step 1), Akers' SLT (step 2), and elements of the prototype/willingness model (PWM) (step 3) upon self-reported speeding by the Provisional driver in a hierarchical multiple regression model found the following significant predictors: gender (male), car ownership (own car), reward sensitivity (greater sensitivity), depression (greater depression), personal attitudes (more risky attitudes), and speeding (more speeding) as a Learner.

The research findings have considerable implications for road safety researchers, policy-makers, mental health professionals and medical practitioners alike. A broad range of issues need to be considered when developing, implementing and evaluating interventions for both the intentional and unintentional risky driving behaviours of interest. While a variety of interventions have been historically utilised, including education, enforcement, rehabilitation and incentives, caution is warranted. A multi-faceted approach to improving novice road safety is more likely to be effective, and new and existing countermeasures should capitalise on the potential of parents, peers and Police to be a positive influence upon the risky behaviour of young novice drivers. However, the efficacy of some interventions remains undetermined at this time. Notwithstanding this caveat, countermeasures such as augmenting and strengthening Queensland's GDL program and targeting parents and adolescents particularly warrant further attention.

The findings of the research program suggest that Queensland's current-GDL can be strengthened by increasing compliance of young novice drivers with existing conditions and restrictions. The rates of speeding reported by the young Learner driver are particularly alarming for a number of reasons. The Learner is inexperienced in driving, and travelling in excess of speed limits places them at greater risk as they are also inexperienced in detecting and responding appropriately to driving hazards. In addition, the Learner period should provide the foundation for a safe lifetime driving career, enabling the development and reinforcement of non-risky driving habits. Learners who sped reported speeding by greater margins, and at greater frequencies, when they were able to drive independently.

Other strategies could also be considered to enhance Queensland's GDL program, addressing both the pre-Licence adolescent and their parents. Options that warrant further investigation to determine their likely effectiveness include screening and treatment of novice drivers by mental health professionals and/or medical practitioners; and general social skills training. Considering the self-reported pre-licence driving of the young novice driver, targeted education of parents may need to occur before their child obtains a Learner licence. It is noteworthy that those participants who reported risky driving during the Learner phase also were more likely to report risky driving behaviour during the Provisional phase; therefore it appears vital that the development of safe driving habits is encouraged from the beginning of the novice period.

General education of parents and young novice drivers should inform them of the considerably-increased likelihood of risky driving behaviour, crashes and offences associated with having unlimited access to a vehicle in the early stages of intermediate licensure. Importantly, parents frequently purchase the car that is used by the Provisional driver, who typically lives at home with their parents, and therefore parents are ideally positioned to monitor the journeys of their young novice driver during this early stage of independent driving. Parents are pivotal in the development of their driving child: they are models who are imitated and are sources of attitudes, expectancies, rewards and punishments; and they provide the most driving instruction for the Learner. High rates of self-reported speeding by Learners suggests that GDL programs specifically consider the nature of supervision during the Learner period, encouraging supervisors to be vigilant to compliance with general and GDL-specific road rules, and especially driving in excess of speed limit.

Attitudes towards driving are formed before the adolescent reaches the age when they can be legally licensed. Young novice drivers with risky personal attitudes towards driving reported more risky driving behaviour, suggesting that countermeasures should target such attitudes and that such interventions might be implemented before the adolescent is licensed. The risky behaviours and attitudes of friends were also found to be influential, and given that young novice drivers tend to carry their friends as their passengers, a group intervention such as provided in a school class context may prove more effective. Social skills interventions that encourage the novice to resist the negative influences of their friends and their peer passengers, and to not imitate the risky driving behaviour of their friends, may also be effective. The punishments and rewards anticipated from and administered by friends were also found to influence the self-reported risky behaviour of the young novice driver; therefore young persons could be encouraged to sanction the risky, and to reward the non-risky, driving of their novice friends.

Adolescent health programs and related initiatives need to more specifically consider the risks associated with driving. Young novice drivers are also adolescents, a developmental period associated with depression and anxiety. Depression, anxiety, and sensation seeking propensity were found to be predictive of risky driving; therefore interventions targeting psychological distress, whilst discouraging the expression of sensation seeking propensity whilst driving, warrant development and trialing. In addition, given that reward sensitivity was also predictive, a scheme which rewards novice drivers for safe driving behaviour - rather than rewarding the novice through emotional and instrumental rewards for risky driving behaviour - requires further investigation.

The Police were also influential in the risky driving behaviour of young novices. Young novice drivers who had been detected for an offence, and then avoided punishment, reacted differentially, with some drivers appearing to become less risky after the encounter, whilst for others their risky behaviour appeared to be reinforced and therefore was more likely to be performed again. Such drivers saw t

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ID Code: 59638
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Watson, Barry C., Hyde, Melissa K., & King, Mark J.
Keywords: young drivers, novice, learner, provisional licence, graduated driver licensing, logbook, risky behaviour, pre-licence driving, depression, anxiety, sensation seeking, reward sensitivity, punishment sensitivity, reciprocal determinism, parents, peers, police, social learning theory, prototype/willingness model
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety - Qld (CARRS-Q)
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 02 May 2013 06:51
Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015 04:48

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