BACKGROUND: Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of fatality and acquired disability in adolescents. Young, inexperienced drivers are overrepresented in crashes.
OBJECTIVE: Our goal was to explore the adolescent perspective on driving safety to provide a better understanding of factors that influence safety and teenagers' exposure to driving hazards.
METHODS: Adolescents generated, prioritized, and explained their viewpoint by using the teen-centered method. These viewpoints were obtained from a school-based nationally representative survey of 9th-, 10th-, and 11th-graders (N = 5665) from 68 high schools, conducted in spring 2006, that included teen-generated items. The main outcome measures were rating of risk and prevalence of witnessing driving hazards.
RESULTS: Drinking while driving was ranked as the greatest hazard (87% of the respondents reported that it made a lot of difference), although only 12% witnessed it often. Ranked next as dangers while driving were text-messaging, racing, impairment from marijuana, and road rage. Sixty percent viewed inexperience as a significant hazard, although only 15% reported seeing it often. Cell phone use was viewed as a significant hazard by 28%, although 57% witnessed it frequently. Only 10% viewed peer passengers as hazardous, but 64% frequently observed them. Distracting peer behaviors, among other distractions, were viewed as more dangerous. Subpopulations varied in the degree they perceived hazards. For example, black and Hispanic adolescents viewed substance use while driving as less hazardous than did white adolescents but witnessed it more frequently.
CONCLUSIONS: Adolescents generally understand the danger of intoxicated driving. However, some groups need to better recognize this hazard. Distractions take teenagers' focus off the road, but not all are viewed as hazardous. Although inexperience is the key factor that interacts with other conditions to cause crashes, adolescents do not recognize what merits experience. Future research is needed to explore how to help teens become safer drivers and how to make clinicians, families, and communities more effective in setting, promoting, and monitoring safety standards.
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