Risky driving behaviour

Does risky driving behaviour increase young drivers’ risk of crashing?

While inexperience is considered the primary reason why young drivers are over-represented in road crashes, intentional and unintentional risk taking also plays a role.

Driving risks found to be more common among young drivers include: excessive speeding, speeding for the thrill or simply driving too fast for the conditions; driving too close to the vehicle they are following; using a mobile phone while driving (including text messaging); violating traffic rules; and driving at night.

In addition, carrying multiple passengers, especially peer-aged passengers, presents a greater risk for young drivers compared to adult experienced drivers. Likewise, driving after drinking alcohol, even at low blood alcohol levels (e.g., 0.02%), is more risky than for adults, with young drivers’ crash risk at least five times that of adult drivers at the same alcohol level.

Risky driving in young, inexperienced drivers significantly increases their risk of having a crash. Recent Australian studies have shown that self-reported risky driving behaviours are associated with significant increased risk of crashing in the first years of driving on a Provisional licence.  In a study of over 20,000 young drivers in New South Wales, self-reported risky driving behaviours were associated with a 50% increase in the risk of crashing.

Further, this recent study found that risky driving behaviours occurred even among young drivers who perceived the behaviours as risky; that is, knowing a behaviour was risky did not stop some young drivers from engaging in that behaviour. This may be why education programs that just focus on increasing knowledge of driving risks and improving attitudes have not been found to reduce actual risky driving behaviour or crashes. The study findings provide support for strong graduated licensing schemes restricting the newest drivers from the riskiest driving conditions and strong enforcement of these laws by police to ensure high levels of compliance.

Risky behaviours associated with increased risk of crashing include:

  • Driving at night: The highest risk of death for young drivers (aged 25 years or less) involved in a road crash occurs during the night-time hours; especially nearing midnight and into the early morning hours, and during these times on weekends.
  • Alcohol: Compared to more experienced drivers (those who have been driving for 5 years or more) first year Provisional drivers are 3 times more likely to be injured in a crash if they have been drinking.  The risk is greater for young drivers: drivers in their 20s have at least 5 times the risk of crashing compared to drivers in their 30s for all alcohol levels.
  • Using a mobile phone when driving: The risk of crashing when using a mobile phone increases four-fold, while the risk of driver death is between 4-9 times higher than when not using a phone.  Young drivers are also more likely to be severely injured in a crash when distracted by a mobile telephone.
  • Carrying multiple peer passengers: Australian studies have shown increased risk of death in a crash for probationary drivers who carry more than one passenger.  In Provisional drivers, the odds of crashing increase 50% when carrying one passenger, and more than double when carrying three or more passengers.  Victorian data shows over one-quarter of first year Provisional drivers who die in crashes were carrying multiple passengers at the time of the crash.

Factbase recommendations

There is a clear need for evidence-based interventions targeting risky driving behaviour to reduce the risk of crashes and injury outcomes in young drivers.  Programs need to move beyond ‘awareness’ education to a combination of strong graduated driver licensing programs and police enforcement.


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Risky driving behaviour