It is a commonly held belief that young drivers, particularly young male drivers, are far more likely to be involved in car accidents than any other group of people. The stereotype of the boy racer careering through the streets has captured the imagination of the public for a long time, but is this concept of the irresponsible young driver really fair?
Young Drivers and Accidents: The Facts
According to a 2009 Department of Transport report, young drivers between the ages of 17-24 were involved in 26% of the total 163,554 reported personal injury road accidents. Drivers in this age group accounted for only 12% of all driving license holders at the time and are therefore over-represented in accident statistics. Moreover, young people are over represented in road accident injury statistics: young people accounted for 27% of all road fatalities in 2009 and 2,026 young people were seriously injured (e.g. whiplash injury claim) or killed, again accounting for 27% of the total serious injuries or deaths in this year.
Although statistics indicate that young people are still more likely to be involved in a car crash and be victims of a car crash, reassuringly, the amount of young people involved in accidents has significantly declined since the 1990s. Compared to averages between 1994-1998, the number of serious injuries or deaths in young car driver accidents was 52% lower in 2009 and has decreased since then. It seems then, that although young people still have a higher rate of accidents, the steady decrease in prevalence is evidence of how better education and improved attitudes have impacted upon young people. Arguably, negatively stereotyping young male drivers based solely on gender and age can actually exacerbate bad attitudes to driving; creating the character of the “bad driver” as rebellious, which in turn can become attractive to young people.
Why Are Young People More Dangerous on the Roads?
So if statistics have consistently indicated that young people are more likely to have accidents on the road, then an investigation into why this is the case is pertinent. Statistics on the time of the day when accidents happen help illuminate what behaviours may be affecting the potential for accidents. In 2009, a higher proportion of young driver accidents happened between 8pm and 4am on Friday/Saturday and Saturday/Sunday compared to all other accidents, despite the fact that during these times traffic flow was less. It is possible that alcohol and drug intoxication contributed to this. 4% of young drivers involved in accidents were “impaired by alcohol” compared to 2% of the rest of the population. Young drivers also tend to drive at night more than other drivers, whether they drive under the influence or not. Night-time driving is considered more dangerous than day time driving simply because of impaired vision due to darkness and the risk of driving too fast because of little traffic.
As well as risky behaviour in relation to alcohol and drugs, young people are more likely to take risks and drive fast in order to experience the perceived benefit of an adrenaline rush, status amongst a peer group or a feeling of power, especially some young male drivers. Moreover, brake.org.uk cites physical attributes of the younger brain which put young drivers more at risk. The frontal lobe of the brain which helps control instincts and emotions isn’t fully developed until our mid-twenties and this can put younger drivers more at risk of crashing. According to the Transport Research Laboratory a driver starting to drive at 18 is 8% less likely to have a crash than if they start at 17.
Overall then it seems that as much as we might want to, we cannot deny that young people are more at risk of having accidents, although this age groups involvement in accidents has significantly decreased over the past decade. There is no reason to assume then that this decrease could not continue with consistent education. Changing attitudes to drink driving is a perfect illustration of how education can save lives; whereas in previous decades drink driving was par for the course, nowadays it is an activity a lot of young people would never consider. If we continue to spread awareness amongst young people of the risks of driving then, the statistics on young drivers could potentially change for the better.