Project Background

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds, causing roughly one-third of all deaths for this age group. Teenagers are overrepresented in traffic crashes both as drivers and as passengers. On the basis of miles driven, teenagers are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers. The high crash-involvement rate for this age group is caused primarily by their lack of maturity and driving experience coupled with their overconfidence and risk-taking behaviors. High-risk behaviors include failure to wear safety belts, speeding, and driving while impaired (by alcohol or other drugs), and drowsy or distracted driving. This age group is particularly susceptible to distractions caused by other passengers in the vehicle, electronic devices, and music.

  • A larger percentage of fatal crashes involving teenage drivers are single-vehicle crashes compared to those involving other drivers. In this type of fatal crash, the vehicle usually leaves the road and overturns or hits a roadside object such as a tree or pole.

  • In general, fewer teens wear their safety belts compared to other drivers.

  • A larger proportion of teen fatal crashes involve speeding, or going too fast for road conditions, compared to other drivers.

  • More teen fatal crashes occur when passengers, usually other teenagers, are in the car than do crashes involving other drivers. Two out of three teens who die as passengers are in vehicles driven by other teenagers.

The National Organization for Youth Safety (NOYS) has been working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to identify strategies for counteracting these dangerous driving behaviors among teenage motorists and passengers. The purpose of this project is to support these efforts by identifying messages and communication strategies that are likely to affect teenage driving behaviors.
The first step in this project was to convene a steering committee drawn from the NHTSA program offices and from selected organizations involved in youth traffic safety programs. The members of this steering committee are listed in Appendix C.

The steering committee was asked to define the parameters of the project and to develop recommendations on how the project should proceed. The results of this meeting were summarized in a summary report, delivered to NHTSA in February 2004.

The principal recommendations made by the steering committee are:

  • Concentrate on young drivers ages 15 to 18

  • Examine the motivations for the following behaviors:
    • Speeding and racing
    • Alcohol and drugs
    • Failure to wear a safety belt
    • Drowsiness (night and early morning before school)
    • Distracted Driving
      • friends in car, biggest issue
      • looking for CDs and radio station, second biggest issue
      • cell phone and food, minor issue
    • Following too closely

  • Conduct a combination of Focus Groups and Affinity Groups

  • Attempt to determine:
    • If behaviors that have been heavily communicated (impaired driving and safety belts) could benefit from a new message;

    • What messages might be successful against newer problem behaviors (i.e., following too closely); and

    • What delivery mechanisms the participants believe could be effective in reaching young drivers.

With regard to the identification of possible messages, the steering committee recommended that, to the extent possible, the focus group report should focus on the conceptual approach and themes that should be used rather than the actual words that should be presented, since the “current” terminology will likely change. This information can be used by NHTSA and by organizations involved in youth safety activities to fine-tune existing program messages and to identify new areas for development.

Organization of the Focus Group Report

The purpose of this document is to summarize the results of these focus groups and to discuss the implications of these results for NHTSA’s youth programs. In the paragraphs below, the following topics will be addressed:

  • Methodology
    • Focus group matrix city selection
    • Screeners
    • Participation profiles
    • Focus group questions
    • Methodology issues

  • Summary of Responses by Group
    • Generic Males
    • Generic Females
    • Risk Taking Males and Safer Males
    • Geographic differences (if any)

  • Findings by Program Area
    • Driver licensing
    • Impaired driving
    • Enforcement
    • Safety belt use
    • Speed
    • Distracted driving
    • Drowsy driving

  • Message and Delivery System Recommendations

  • Additional Thoughts on the Teenage Brain

  • Appendix A: Focus Group Screener

  • Appendix B: Focus Group Questions

  • Appendix C: Summary of Final Working Group Meeting