Depressed Teen Drivers May Be Riskier Behind The Wheel

Australian study links teen drivers’ mental states to car crashes

Depressed teen drivers may engage in more risky behaviors behind the wheel, increasing their likelihood of getting into an accident, says an Australian report published in Injury Prevention.

It's no secret that teen drivers are prone to serious accidents: The study noted that in 2008, drivers aged 17 to 24 represented 22.3% of all road fatalities and were involved in 29.9% of crashes in which someone was fatally injured, even though the particular age group represented just 13% of licensed drivers in the country.

Researchers are trying to find out exactly what teen drivers do to cause such serious crashes. Knowing that risky driving behavior generally contributes to car crashes, the study's authors set out to determine what influences teens to engage in risky driving behaviors.

Authors Birdie Scott-Parker, Barry Watson, Mark J. King and Melissa K. Hyde of the Queensland University of Technology's Center for Accident Research and Road Safety in Australia found that a lot may rest on the driver's state of mind.


Given that psychological issues such as depression and anxiety often lead young people to engage in destructive practices, such as alcohol abuse, engaging in unprotected sex and cigarette smoking, the authors suspected that risky driving practices could fall into the same bucket.

They used a survey of 1,284 drivers that measured psychological distress. It then asked the respondents to complete a survey about driving behaviors. People who admitted to speeding and not wearing seat-belts were classified as risky drivers.

The results showed a strong correlation between the mental health of young drivers and their willingness to engage in dangerous driving activity.

A psychological evaluation designed to detect signs of depression and anxiety "can identify drivers who are at greater risk of distress, and therefore at greater risk on the road," the study said. Thus, the question becomes: Should young drivers that have shown signs of psychological distress be issued a driver's license, knowing that they present a much greater risk to themselves and other drivers?

Since the study is based primarily on self-reported behavior through surveys, and not clinical analysis of actual driving behavior, more work needs to be done before instituting some sort of psychological screening.

The study also has some holes, say some academics and research analysts in that it does not firmly define what exactly constitutes risky driving behavior (it lacks any mention of distracted driving, i.e. talking on the phone, eating and drinking and listening to loud music while driving).

The finding, however, are food for thought for further study. What to you think? Let us know in the comments.

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