How Do Multiple Male Peer Passengers Affect Male Adolescents’ Risky Driving Behaviors: A Driving Simulator Evaluation
This study will examine risky driving behaviors of male teenagers driving alone as compared to when driving with multiple passengers; examine distraction and inattention behaviors of male teenagers when driving alone as compared to when driving with multiple friends as passengers; and characterize the interaction dynamics of multiple male teenage occupants of a vehicle.
Motor vehicle crashes (MVCs) are the leading cause of mortality and a major cause of injury for U.S. teenagers. This risk is highest for teenage male drivers when multiple teenage male passengers are present in the vehicle. However, the nature of the influence of multiple male teenage passengers on drivers is not well understood. To study these influences, this research project was conducted with the aims of (1) Examining risky driving behaviors of male teenagers driving alone as compared to when driving with multiple friends as passengers; (2) Examining distraction and inattention behaviors of male teenagers when driving alone as compared to when driving with multiple friends as passengers; and, (3) Characterizing the interaction dynamics of multiple male teenage occupants of a vehicle. This research project was undertaken to examine how multiple peer passengers influence male teen drivers. The project aimed to examine risky driving behaviors of male teenagers and to examine distraction and inattention of male teenagers when driving with multiple male peer passengers as compared to driving alone. The experimental pilot study was conducted in a virtual reality driving simulator environment where male teenage drivers were asked to drive in a realistic but safe and controlled driving situation with two of their own friends as passengers. Risky driving data such as intersection behaviors; distraction behavior data such as duration of glances away from forward roadway; and in-vehicle interaction data were collected. Similar data were collected when the teenager drove without any passengers present. The driving and risk-taking behaviors of teenage drivers were analyzed for comparison between these two passenger presence conditions. We had hypothesized that male drivers would engage in riskier behaviors when driving with passengers than when driving alone. However, the results show the opposite effect, with teenagers driving safer with passengers. We had also hypothesized that drivers with multiple passengers would exhibit greater visual distraction behaviors as compared to driving alone, but in fact we found no differences in visual behavior in the two cases. Finally, an analysis of the in-vehicle conversation between the driver and the passengers indicated that some passengers did engage in encouraging risk taking, but in this study, drivers seemed to be less swayed by the peer pressure. This pilot study specifically addresses the Injury Center’s focus area of Young Driver Safety by studying the influence of multiple passengers; a significant factor associated with the high fatal and non-fatal injury rates for teenagers due to MVCs. The evidence gathered from the pilot offers insights into the mechanisms of peer influence in the driving context which can serve to inform the development of interventions and to inform and influence policy regarding licensing, training, public education, and parental oversight. This study yields important pilot data as well as establishes the feasibility of such study approaches, that can be leveraged to attract larger and longer-term extramural funding to study the high-priority public health issue of young driver safety.