Distress does not increase young driver crash risk

A survey of more than 20,000 young Australian drivers has reported that 17-24 year old drivers with psychological distress are not at increased risk of crashing when behind the wheel.

This unexpected finding from researchers at The George Institute, found that slight psychological distress among young drivers, which affects around 30% of youths, may actually make them safer drivers.

Psychological distress encompasses both symptoms of depression and anxiety. The research, which was published today in the Journal of Adolescent Health says that young drivers with high levels of distress were neither at an increased or reduced risk of crash.

“Earlier studies may have overestimated the risk of psychological distress on young driver crashes. Our data, from the largest study of young drivers ever conducted, did not find that high levels of distress were related to increased crash risk – as other previous studies have suggested. Actually, results showed that moderate levels of psychological distress may even protect a young driver from crashing”, said lead author of the research Dr Alexandra Martiniuk, The George Institute.

Until now, previous smaller studies have been unable to rule out the possibility that drivers with emotional and psychological distress may spend less time driving, and as a result reported conflicting findings.  This new study by Dr Martiniuk et al is the first large study to assess psychological distress in young drivers and then follow them two years into the future to see if they crashed. The study also controlled for the time spent behind the wheel.

“These results are particularly interesting, in that they show a moderate amount of psychological distress may actually protect young drivers against having a crash. Moderate levels of emotional distress may cause young drivers to be more vigilant when they are driving”, added Dr Martiniuk.

These results are part of a series of analyses from the DRIVE study, which is the largest study of young drivers ever undertaken and was funded by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council, NRMA Motoring and Services, and NRMA-ACT Road Safety trust and the Roads and Traffic Authority of NSW. The DRIVE study recruited over 20,822 young drivers holding red P-plates in NSW aged 17-24 years and prospectively examined their crashes reported to police for a two year period. The overall aim of the DRIVE study is to investigate the risk factors in motor vehicle-related crashes and injuries among young drivers and to find ways to improve the safety of young drivers and help make roads safer for all users.

This particular analysis assessed the relationship between psychological distress and risk of motor vehicle crashes among young drivers. Additional results due to be released from the DRIVE study during 2009/2010 include: pre-licensing driving experience, training and education, and sleep habits.

Distress does not increase young driver crash risk