Developing a Game to Help Teen Drivers Manage Peer Passengers

December 19, 2013

One of the key risk factors for teen driver crashes is the presence of peer passengers. One passenger doubles the risk of a crash, and two or more passengers lead to a five time greater risk of crash. As part of the CIRP@CHOP Teen Driver Safety Research Team and the principal investigator of simulator-based research and director of the simulator program, I have been exploring the detrimental impact of peer passengers on teen drivers with my research colleague, Noelle LaVoie, PhD at Parallel Consulting, with the goal of developing an engaging intervention that helps teens to reduce passenger-related distractions. We are in the process of developing a multi-player game as an intervention to address this issue.

Insights from Formative Ressarch
Our research with teen drivers and passengers included interviews and surveys with teens behind the wheel to better understand their perspectives and strategies for managing passengers. Teens report that passengers may be annoying and distracting, doing things like grabbing the steering wheel, being too loud, bouncing in seats, and shouting out windows. Many teens are comfortable telling passengers to behave, but there are two factors that influence this behavior.

First, drivers’ expectations of passengers influence how they interact with them. Male and female teens describe their expectations of peer passengers differently: Females expect their passengers to be quiet and to not distract them, while males expect their passengers to behave more maturely.

Second, the social relationship between a driver and a passenger has a big impact on a passenger’s level of dangerous behavior. When teens drive with a passenger, it’s usually a very close friend, and this situation is easy to manage. But when teens drive with more than one passenger, it’s usually a combination of close friends and acquaintances. Teens say acquaintances are more difficult to manage. A third of teens say they have to be more polite with acquaintances, and in some cases may just try to ignore them instead of asking them to behave. As one teen said, “It’s difficult to manage a complex social situation while driving." CHOP research confirms that teens just don’t have enough experience with driving or managing complex social situations to handle multiple peer passengers safely.

Intervention Development: Use of a Multi-player Game
Games are frequently used for learning about health and education. Players learn through planning, decision-making, and personally witnessing cause-and-effect relationships of different behaviors. Multi-player games stimulate interaction between players, so teens can learn from each other. And games give teens practice with driving under safe conditions.

We are using our formative research results to develop an intervention that works as a multi-player game to help teens learn how to manage peer passengers and practice safe driving behaviors. Inspired by the Ride Like A Friend. Drive Like You Care program research conducted by CIRP, we want to help teens set expectations for each other, including showing respect and limiting distractions. The game will allow teens to practice driving and manage complex social situations at the same time. As teens play the game, they practice cooperating, communicating, and managing distractions while completing challenging and fun driving scenarios.

Our results also support existing recommendations that limit the number of passengers teen drivers may carry. Further, parents and teens should be aware that driving with passengers whom they don’t know very well may be more dangerous than driving with close friends as passengers. Research on peer passengers should continue to explore gender differences and social relationships as they have a significant impact on driver-passenger interactions.