A recent study reveals that mental health issues are associated with risky driving and other driving errors amongst teenagers. Specifically, the study found that attention deficit disorder (ADHD) and conduct disorder symptoms contribute to the risk of wrecks in adolescents who recently received their driver’s licenses. The study, published in the Nursing Research journal, involved 60 drivers aged 16 to 17 who received their drivers’ licenses within the past 90 days.
The Study Findings
The study included four evaluations of the participants.
- First, the teens were assessed on their responses to common, avoidable crashes using a high-fidelity driving simulator.
- Second, they completed questionnaires on risky driving behaviors such as not wearing a seatbelt, speeding and distracted driving.
- Third, the teens were assessed for mental health symptoms associated with risky driving, including ADHD, conduct disorder and depression.
- Finally, their parents also filled out a questionnaire regarding their teens’ mental health.
Teens who reported inattention performed worse on the driving simulator; the higher their self-reported scores for inattention, the more errors they made. Also, teens with high scores for hyperactivity/impulsivity and conduct disorder had more risky driving behaviors. Generally, parents’ responses regarding their teens’ risky driving behaviors were not related to the teens’ responses on the mental health questionnaire, nor the teens’ performance on the driving simulator.
The Researchers’ Evaluations
The study’s researchers note that although teens who qualified for clinical follow-up for ADHD and conduct disorder scored higher for risky driving, hyperactivity/impulsivity were the symptoms associated with risky driving behaviors, not necessarily the diagnosis of ADHD. The study’s lead author stated that teens who reported higher levels of inattention made more errors in the driving simulator, and that teens who reported symptoms of hyperactivity and conduct disorder also reported more risky driving behaviors.
It is fairly well established that newly licensed teen drivers are at higher risk of getting into car accidents, and that car accidents are the leading cause of death for adolescents. But little research has been conducted on the role of mental health issues in crash risk.
This study suggests that teens who have mental health symptoms associated with hyperactivity/impulsivity and conduct disorder may be at higher risk of crashing. The authors state that teens with hyperactivity/impulsivity have problems with self-control, and therefore may violate more rules – whereas those with conduct disorder may break rules to manipulate a situation or express hostility.
The authors hope that understanding the role of mental health factors in risky driving amongst new teen drivers will help lower the rate of wrecks. They say that nurses are in a unique position to counsel teens regarding the risks associated with mental health and risky driving behaviors.
As teens become more aware of what is at stake when they engage in distracted driving or risky driving behaviors, hopefully they will take steps to reduce those risky driving behaviors, thereby reducing their chances of getting in a potentially fatal car accident.
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