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Risky Driving Behaviors Among Teenagers -- Gwinnett County, Georgia, 1993

In the United States in 1991, approximately 6000 persons aged 16-20 years died from motor-vehicle crashes (MVCs) -- twice as many as from any other cause of death among persons in this age group (1). During 1991, approximately 3000 crashes in Gwinnett County, Georgia (1990 population: 352,910) (26% of all crashes in Gwinnett County), involved at least one teenage driver (Gwinnett County Department of Transportation, unpublished data, 1992). Risky driving behaviors are among the risk factors for teenage MVC death and injury (2). To better characterize these risk factors, the Georgia Department of Human Resources, the Gwinnett County Board of Health, the community-based Gwinnett County Teen Traffic Tragedies Task Force, and CDC conducted a case-control study of MVCs among teenage drivers in Gwinnett County during 1993. This report summarizes the results of that study.

To be eligible for the study, a person must have been aged 16- 19 years, a licensed driver, and enrolled in a Gwinnett County public high school. Case-students (n=64) had been involved as drivers in injury-producing MVCs during January-March 1993 according to Police Accident Reports filed with the Gwinnett County Department of Transportation. Control-students (n=227) were randomly selected from enrollment files of Gwinnett County public high schools; these students had never been involved in a police-reported crash, were aged 16-19 years, and were licensed drivers. Participants completed a written questionnaire in which they specified how often they had engaged in 11 potentially risky driving behaviors during the 3 months preceding the survey (Table_1). Questions were adapted from a survey on risky driving behavior (3). Possible responses were "never," "one to two times," "three to five times," and "six or more times." The chi-square test was used to assist in assessing associations between behaviors and risk for MVCs. Three behaviors that appeared to be associated with MVCs and two additional behaviors thought to be potentially life-threatening were analyzed further by stratifying by sex.

For seven of the 11 risky behaviors, at least 50% of both cases and controls reported engaging in the behaviors at least once during the 3 months preceding the survey. For example, at least once during the 3 months preceding the survey, 63% of all respondents reported tailgating, 80% reported driving 20 miles per hour (mph) over the speed limit, and 91% reported entering an intersection when the light was about to turn red. Twenty-six percent of all students surveyed reported passing in a no-passing zone, and 21% reported passing two to three cars at once on a two-lane road.

When cases and controls were compared, three behaviors appeared to be associated with risk for MVCs: driving 20 mph over the speed limit (p=0.06), passing a car in a no-passing zone (p=0.06), and taking risks while driving in traffic because it makes driving more fun (p=0.07). For these behaviors, differences were greatest for those who reported engaging in the behaviors six or more times during the 3 months preceding the survey (Table_1). At this level, 28 (44%) cases and 65 (29%) controls reported driving 20 mph over the speed limit; five (8%) cases and nine (4%) controls reported passing a car in a no-passing zone; and 12 (19%) cases and 18 (8%) controls reported taking some risks while driving in traffic because it makes driving more fun.

Compared with male controls and all females, male cases were more likely to drive 20 mph over the speed limit (p=0.02), pass a car in a no-passing zone (p=0.05), take driving risks for fun (p=0.04), and pass two to three cars at once on a two-lane road (p=0.09) (Table_2).

Reported by: Gwinnett County Teen Traffic Tragedies Task Force; JC Crutcher, MD, Gwinnett County Board of Health; G Black, P Campbell, Gwinnett County Dept of Transportation, Lawrenceville; JD Smith, K Toomey, MD, State Epidemiologist, Georgia Dept of Human Resources. Div of Unintentional Injury Prevention, Div of Acute Care and Rehabilitation Research and Disability Prevention, Office of Statistics, Programming, and Graphics, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: Young drivers account disproportionately for MVCs worldwide (4), reflecting, in part, the combination of immaturity and lack of driving experience (5). Adolescent drivers are more likely than adult drivers to report speeding, running red lights, making illegal turns, not wearing safety belts, riding with an intoxicated driver, and driving after using drugs or alcohol (6).

In the Gwinnett County study, most students -- regardless of whether they were cases or controls -- reported engaging in risky driving behaviors. Parents should recognize that driving is a complex task that can take several years to master and can assist in reducing the risk for MVCs among adolescent drivers by 1) providing young drivers a longer period of supervised driving in low-risk settings (e.g., with supervision, during daylight, and in safe environments) in addition to traditional driver's education courses, 2) serving as role models by practicing good driving behaviors and always obeying traffic laws, and 3) requiring all family members to be properly restrained each time they ride in a motor vehicle.

The findings in this report are subject to at least five limitations. First, because respondents were students who were licensed drivers enrolled in public schools, the study did not include students in private schools, youth not enrolled in school, and drivers with learners' permits. Second, because the study assessed only MVCs that occurred during January-March 1993, the effects of seasonal trends could not be analyzed. Third, the study did not include MVCs that resulted only in property damage or were not reported to the police. Fourth, other potential risk factors (e.g., alcohol use) were not analyzed in this report, although they were included in the study. Finally, the analysis of findings in this case-control study was influenced by the high prevalences of risky behaviors among members of both the case and control groups.

Graduated driver licensing is one strategy for promoting safe driving behaviors and reducing the incidence and severity of MVCs among young drivers. This method allows new drivers to accumulate driving experience in low-risk settings and gradually lifts restrictions until an unrestricted license is earned (7). In addition, because up to 24 months may be required to obtain an unrestricted license, drivers are older and more mature when they become fully licensed. Driving restrictions may include prohibiting unsupervised nighttime driving, requiring zero or near-zero blood alcohol concentration, requiring all occupants to be properly restrained, and limiting the number of passengers and the distances and types of roads traveled. The threshold for corrective action (e.g., a lengthened restriction period) may be lower for restricted drivers than for unrestricted drivers. Graduated licensing systems have been instituted in Australia, New Zealand, and Ontario, Canada. Although this system has not been implemented in the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is providing funds to states to evaluate the impact of various elements of the graduated licensing system.

The Gwinnett County Teen Traffic Tragedies Task Force is planning to use findings from this study to assist in developing and targeting specific intervention strategies for reducing MVC injuries and deaths among young drivers.

References

  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Fatal Accident Reporting System, 1991: a review of information on fatal traffic crashes in the United States. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1992.

  2. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Teenage drivers: questions and answers. Arlington, Virginia: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 1993.

  3. Donovan JE, Jessor R. Young adult driving questionnaire. Boulder, Colorado: University of Colorado Institute of Behavioral Science, 1992.

  4. Evans L. Traffic safety and the driver. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1991.

  5. Mayhew DR, Simpson HM. New to the road: young drivers and novice drivers: similar problems and solutions? Ottawa: Traffic Injury Research Foundation of Canada, 1991.

  6. Hingson R, Howland J. Promoting safety in adolescents. In: Millstein SG, Petersen AC, Nightingale EO, eds. Promoting the health of adolescents: new directions for the twenty-first century. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

  7. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Slower graduation to full licensing means fewer teenage deaths. In: Status report. Arlington, Virginia: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 1994;29(4):1-3.


Table_1
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TABLE 1. Frequency * of self-reported risky driving behaviors among persons aged 16-19 years, by case-student + and
control-student & status and behavior -- Gwinnett County, Georgia, 1993
========================================================================================================================
                                      Never               1-2 Times              3-5 Times             >=6 Times
                             ---------------------  ---------------------  --------------------  ---------------------
                               Case       Control     Case      Control      Case      Control     Case       Control
                             ---------   ---------  ---------  ----------  ---------  ---------  ---------   ---------
Behavior                     No.  (%)    No.  (%)   No.  (%)   No.   (%)   No.  (%)   No.  (%)   No.  (%)    No.  (%)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  Drive 10 miles per hour
    over the speed limit      4   ( 6)     3  ( 1)   5   ( 8)  26    (12)  11   (17)  40   (18)  44   (69)   155  (69)
  Drive 20 miles per hour
    over the speed limit +   11   (17)    44  (20)  19   (30)  67    (30)   6   ( 9)  48   (21)  28   (44)    65  (29)
  Enter an intersection
    when the light was
    about to turn red         7   (11)    18  ( 8)  16   (25)  76    (34)  12   (19)  57   (26)  29   (45)    73  (33)
  Tailgate another car
    to get it to go
    faster or pull over
    in a slower lane         22   (34)    86  (38)  19   (30)  59    (26)   9   (14)  31   (14)  14   (22)    48  (21)
  Pass a car in a no-
    passing zone @           44   (69)   170  (76)   9   (14)  39    (17)   6   ( 9)   6   ( 3)   5   ( 8)     9  ( 4)
  Pass two or three
    cars at a time
    on a two-lane road       49   (77)   182  (81)   7   (11)  28    (13)   6   ( 9)   9   ( 4)   2   ( 3)     5  ( 2)
  Drive through a stop
    sign without coming
    to a full stop           24   (38)    69  (31)  17   (27)  67    (30)   8   (13)  26   (12)  15   (23)    62  (28)
  Drive through a residen-
    tial neighborhood
    or school zone at
    a speed higher than
    the posted speed limit   11   (17)    21  ( 9)  21   (33)  79    (35)   5   ( 8)  36   (16)  27   (42)    88  (39)
  Take some risks while
    driving in traffic
    because it makes
    driving more fun @       38   (59)   153  (68)  10   (16)  44    (20)   4   ( 6)   9   ( 4)  12   (19)    18  ( 8)
  Speed through slower
    traffic by switching
    quickly back and forth
    between lanes            29   (45)   104  (46)  14   (22)  60    (27)   9   (14)  27   (12)  12   (19)    33  (15)
  Race or drag race for
   the fun of it             44   (69)   167  (75)  11   (17)  36    (16)   5   ( 8)   8   ( 4)   4   ( 6)    13  ( 6)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* During the 3 months preceding the survey.
+ Persons aged 16-19 years who were licensed drivers, enrolled in a Gwinnett County public school, and had been
  involved in an injury-producing, police-reported motor-vehicle crash during January-March 1993.
& Persons aged 16-19 years who were licensed drivers, enrolled in a Gwinnett County public school, and had never been
  involved in a police-reported crash.
@ p<0.1 (chi square test for association).
========================================================================================================================

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Table_2
Note: To print large tables and graphs users may have to change their printer settings to landscape and use a small font size.

TABLE 2. Frequency * of self-reported risky driving behaviors among persons aged 16-19 years, by case-student + and
control-student & status, sex, and behavior -- Gwinnett County, Georgia, 1993
========================================================================================================================
                                      Never               1-2 Times             3-5 Times              >=6 Times
                             ---------------------  ---------------------  ---------------------  --------------------
                                Case      Control      Case      Control      Case     Control      Case      Control
                             ---------   ---------  ---------  ----------  ---------   ---------  ---------   --------
Sex/Behavior                 No.  (%)    No.  (%)   No.  (%)   No.   (%)   No.  (%)    No.  (%)   No.  (%)    No. (%)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Male
  Drive 20 miles per hour
    over the speed limit +    3   ( 9)   21   (16)   9   (27)  35    (27)   2   ( 6)   32   (25)  19   (58)   40  (31)
  Pass a car in a no-
    passing zone @           19   (58)   90   (70)   5   (15)  26    (20)   5   (15)    5   ( 4)   4   (12)    7  ( 6)
  Pass two to three
    cars at a time
    on a two-lane road **    21   (64)   96   (75)   4   (12)  21    (16)   6   (18)    7   ( 6)   2   ( 6)    4  ( 3)
  Take some risks while
    driving because it
    makes driving more fun @ 15   (46)   85   (66)   6   (18)  24    (19)   3   ( 9)    6   ( 5)   9   (27)   13  (10)
  Race or drag race for
    the fun of it            19   (58)   83   (65)   6   (18)  28    (22)   4   (12)    5   ( 4)   4   (12)   12  ( 9)

Female
  Drive 20 miles per hour
    over the speed limit      8   (26)   23   (24)  10   (32)  31    (32)   4   (13)  17   (18)   9   (29)   25   (26)
  Pass a car in a no-
    passing zone             25   (81)   80   (83)   4   (13)  13    (14)   1   ( 3)   1   ( 1)   1   ( 3)    2   ( 2)
  Pass two to three
    cars at a time
    on a two-lane road       28   (90)   86   (90)   3   (10)   7    ( 7)   0   ( 0)   2   ( 2)   0   ( 0)    1   ( 1)
  Take some risks while
    driving because it
    makes driving more fun   23   (74)   69   (72)   4   (13)  19    (20)   1   ( 3)   3   ( 3)   3   (10)    5   ( 5)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 * During the 3 months preceding the survey.
 + Persons aged 16-19 years who were licensed drivers, enrolled in a Gwinnett County public school, and had been
   involved in an injury-producing, police-reported motor-vehicle crash during January-March 1993.
 & Persons aged 16-19 years who were licensed drivers, enrolled in a Gwinnett County public school, and had never been
   involved in a police-reported crash.
 @ p<=0.05 (chi-square test for association).
** p<0.1 (chi-square test for association).
========================================================================================================================

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