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Evaluating How Peer Passengers Affect Teen Drivers

Published on April 9, 2014 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 4 months ago


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The work of Children’s Hospital’s Dennis Durbin, MD, MSCE, scientific director of CHOP’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP), figured prominently in a recently published Atlantic article on teen drivers and distracted driving. The article, “How Gender Affects the Behavior of Teen Drivers,” in part reports on the recent Engaged Driving Symposium, held March 31 in Washington, D.C., and sponsored by State Farm and the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine (AAAM).

The Atlantic article is focused on the “surprising differences” between how teen male and female drivers drive, and particularly on how boys’ and girls’ driving is affected by having passengers in the car. For example, boys are “three times more likely to drive recklessly when there was a girl in the car than when they were driving alone, and slightly more likely than with a boy in the car.”

“In the presence of peers, teens will overvalue the short-term rewards of their decisions rather than the long-term consequences,” the article quotes Dr. Durbin as saying at the conference. Underscoring this, in a paper published in the Annals of Advances in Automotive Medicine to coincide with the Engaged Driving Symposium, citing a recent study the authors (led by Dr. Durbin) note “the rate of crashes and near crashes was nearly twice as high when teens drove with more risk-taking friends.”

Peer passengers “may serve as a source of driver diverted attention, either by diverting the driver’s eyes from the roadway or by engaging the driver in conversation to the extent that a cognitive distraction is created,” the authors write.

And in a recent post on the Center for Injury Research and Prevention blog, Dr. Durbin notes that he prefers the term “engaged driving” to “distracted driving” as “it better describes what we want drivers to do to be safe.”

“Research into how young drivers make decisions about how often and under what circumstances they’re likely to “disengage” from the driving task will help us understand how best to motivate teens to remain fully engaged and prevent crashing, especially in higher risk situations,” Dr. Durbin writes.

To read more, see the Atlantic article and Dr. Durbin’s CIRP blog post. To learn about the pioneering traffic injury prevention research being performed at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention, see the CIRP website.