| Chapter 2||
The primary safety issues related to drivers between the
ages of 15 and 24 are inexperience, immaturity, and risk
taking. Education and training have achieved limited
demonstrated success in reducing the unsafe driving
behaviors of young drivers. The apparent disregard for
one's own personal safety appears to be a defining element
Effective methods to restrain impulsive, risky behaviors have traditionally concentrated on law enforcement, license restriction or denial, or other aversive controls. The effectiveness of these approaches is limited by the resources communities can devote to them.
The Agency's research and programmatic activities for younger drivers are based on the analyses of safety problems posed by this age group. The diversity of current research directions reflects the diversity of causes of and corrections for younger drivers' safety problems. This chapter includes a brief description of the Agency's previous research and programmatic activities and specifies the direction of future research on younger drivers. These activities are, for the most part, explorations of new approaches to dealing with younger driver problems. Although they are not as well defined as activities in a more mature research program, they hold tremendous potential for dealing with the safety problems of younger drivers.
Historically, NHTSA has pursued a multi-faceted approach
towards reducing crashes among younger drivers. During
the last twelve years, however, NHTSA's behavioral
research activities related to younger drivers have focused
almost exclusively upon alcohol and under-age drinking,
with some attention to occupant-protection issues. The
course of this effort is currently expanding to include many
broader issues, including cultural norms, peer influence,
and risk-taking attitudes.
In the past, the Agency has worked to improve highway safety among this population through institutional actions (e.g., education and training, licensing procedures, enforcement, and adjudication) based on increased understanding of individual beliefs, attitudes, and knowledge supporting highway safety. NHTSA has developed technical knowledge and materials to support these actions, as well as methods for disseminating the information and providing technical support to safety professionals and others.
The following paragraphs highlight the most significant of these activities.
|Driver Education||One of NHTSA's earliest objectives was improving the
education and training of new drivers. Seminal studies
identified behaviors necessary to operate a passenger car,
and assessed how critical each behavior was to driving.
The Agency used this information to develop two model
high-school driver-education curricula, which NHTSA
implemented in the 1970's.
NHTSA evaluated a large-scale demonstration of the curricula conducted in Dekalb County, Georgia. Over a 3-year period, students were randomly assigned to one of the two curricula or to a no-training comparison group. Students' driving records over the next six years of driving demonstrated a six percent reduction in crashes among drivers in the standard education programs.
The reasons why driver-education courses seem to have had only limited success as a crash reduction program are unclear. Some safety professionals have suggested that shorter programs focusing on specific topics would be more effective than traditional courses. Others have suggested a two-phase driver education integrated with driving experience.
NHTSA also has developed and tested short instructional programs (modules) intended to supplement driver-education instruction. These modules reliably increased knowledge and improved self-reported safe driving. Unfortunately, these modules were introduced at a time when school-based driver-education courses were suffering cutbacks due to tight school budgets and were not widely implemented as designed. Other completed NHTSA projects include preliminary preparation of a curriculum to provide collision-avoidance skills.
The following paragraphs highlight the most significant of these activities.
|Driver Licensing||The driver licensing system is the key to integrating new
drivers safely into the highway network and limiting the
driving of those who pose safety problems. In order to
ensure that the Agency's research and program activities
are well accepted among State driver-licensing agencies,
NHTSA works closely with the American Association of
Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA).
Research in this area has produced a model driver-improvement (point) system for identifying problem drivers and provides remedial instruction or imposes sanctions based on the severity of offenses. This system has been adopted to some extent by many State licensing agencies.
Driver licenses provide youth with a measure of status and independence. They also present social opportunities and other benefits. Thus, youths are highly motivated to obtain a driver license and to keep it. Provisional licensing programs take advantage of these realities by prescribing certain requirements (e.g., lower BAC thresholds, nighttime restrictions, safety belt use, no violations, etc.) to which provisional licensees must adhere in order to acquire and retain a regular driver license.
In conjunction with the AAMVA, NHTSA developed a model provisional-licensing program designed to ease novice drivers under the age of 18 into the driving environment. Provisional licensing enables these young drivers to gain knowledge, skill, and experience over time under controlled conditions.
Parts of the model program were implemented by the States of Maryland, California, and Oregon. Evaluations of these programs showed reduction in crashes and traffic convictions among the affected age group. However, despite the existence of the NHTSA/AAMVA model program, and evidence that provisional licensing can be effective, States have been reluctant to initiate such programs.
|Attitudes||The young driver highway safety problem stems from more
than a lack of knowledge or skills. Consequently, NHTSA
has endeavored to identify and understand other
characteristics of young drivers that contribute to the
problem, so that appropriate countermeasures can be
developed. The Agency has conducted preliminary
research on risk-taking to determine how younger drivers
perceive risk differently from more experienced drivers,
and in what ways their risk choices differ from other
Other NHTSA research has examined norms and attitudes of adolescents and young adults related to alcohol use and driving. Respondents reported strong societal influences supporting drinking and driving after drinking. Respondents also lacked information on risk factors, assessing degree of impairment, and consequences of drinking and driving.
Recent national telephone surveys on drinking and driving issues conducted for NHTSA will provide additional information on attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors of this age group. Results of this research have not yet been released.
|Enforcement||General deterrence is an important part of the Agency's
young driver program. Recently completed NHTSA
research explored the problem of low arrests and citations
for underage drinking drivers, and identified barriers to
effective enforcement of drinking and driving laws as they
pertain to these drivers. Further, the study examined
enforcement programs that appear to be successful in
addressing the problem, identified general principles for
effective enforcement of drinking and driving laws among
underage drinkers, and developed an assessment package
to assist police agencies in implementing effective
Raising the minimum drinking age (MDA) for alcohol to 21 has led to substantial reductions in crash-related fatalities among young drivers. NHTSA has conducted research to identify feasible, acceptable, and effective programs to deter adolescent drinking in support of the 21 MDA. Experts and youths participating in the study largely agreed on which programs would be most effective. They included: (1) programs that suspend the driver license of underage drinkers or postpone the age at which individuals become eligible to receive a license; and (2) improvements in the design and distribution of driver licenses in order to reduce the use of fraudulent identification to obtain alcohol.
The Agency also has evaluated the effects of a Maryland law restricting persons under age 21 from driving with any detectable amount of alcohol in their system (current devices cannot detect BACs below .02 percent). The study found a reduction in the average number of under-21 crash-involved drivers judged "had been drinking" by the police associated with the implementation of the law. Further, the effectiveness of the law was enhanced by the addition of a public information and education (PI&E) campaign that emphasized the possible penalties for violation of the regulation.
While the majority of the Agency's research on enforcement for young drivers has focused on alcohol, other efforts have been directed at other unsafe behaviors, most notably driving above posted speed limits.
|Adjudication||NHTSA has been co-sponsoring workshops with judges to
help them deal in a more effective manner with impaired
driving issues both in the courts and in their communities.
NHTSA also has been conducting research to validate an
assessment instrument for determining if young drivers
charged with violating drinking and driving laws would
benefit from enrollment in alcohol-treatment programs.
|Motorcycle Safety||Improving skills and protection of motorcyclists has been
another important NHTSA objective. The problem in the
motorcycle area is principally centered among young
drivers. Motorcycle safety research has been concentrated
in three major areas: operator testing and licensing, rider
education, and helmet use, but has also included studies
related to conspicuity enhancement, alcohol safety, and
moped safety. A great deal of the motorcycle research has
been done in conjunction with the Motorcycle Safety
NHTSA research has provided much of the current knowledge on the nature of the motorcycle crash problem through a benchmark crash analysis study that identified causal factors of motorcycle crashes, and identified countermeasures for crash and injury prevention. More recent NHTSA research includes development of visual cues for police to detect DWI motorcyclists.
The bulk of current NHTSA efforts in the motorcycle area are support activities through cooperative agreements and grants. Current youth-specific demonstration grants include (1) a court referral program that requires violators to successfully complete a motorcycle rider education course; and (2) a program to encourage enrollment of younger cyclists in rider education courses, encourage use of protective gear, increase enforcement of DWI laws among motorcyclists, and reduce the number of younger motorcyclists riding without a proper license.
|Community Programs||The Agency has sponsored a number of efforts to focus
attention on younger drivers. In 1988, the Agency held
regional youth traffic safety meetings attended by local,
State and Federal officials. These meetings asked for
recommendations on how to support more joint activities
between alcohol, safety belt, speed control and other safety
programs to reach the common target audience of younger
drivers. Participants identified a need to convene a
national gathering of leaders from each State who are
responsible for youth program areas. In July 1989,
NHTSA cosponsored a Forum on Youth Traffic Safety
Initiatives in Washington, D.C., attended by traffic safety
experts, government officials, representatives from the
private sector, and members of the youth traffic safety
research community. These individuals developed an
Agenda for Action, since published by NHTSA.
The Forum's published recommendations are organized according to the "Youth Traffic Safety Model." This model outlines nine important components in any community's system for reducing traffic fatalities among this age group: school-based programs, enforcement programs, extracurricular programs, licensing programs, community-based programs, adjudication programs, work-based programs, supervision programs, and legislative initiatives.
NHTSA has used its grant program to encourage implementation of such comprehensive programs in the States and has supported efforts by national organizations to address the underage drinking problem. Additionally, NHTSA has developed resource materials to assist implementation.
Although significant progress has been made in recent
years, motor vehicle crashes continue as a major
contributor to deaths and injuries among young adults.
Explanations posed for the heavy toll include their
inexperience as drivers, their risk-taking behavior, aspects
of the youth culture that influence driving, and pressure
from peers. Yet the reasons underlying unsafe driving by
younger drivers are not well understood. Moreover,
research to date generally has shown only punitive or
restrictive measures to be effective in reducing crashes and
injuries among young drivers. There is a lack of
knowledge about how to elicit safer driving through
education and positive incentives.
|Problem Identification||The following research projects are necessary to obtain
fundamental information required to develop program
|Develop Model for Understanding Unsafe Driving Practices by Younger Drivers||Research suggests that young drivers often are ignorant of
important aspects of risky driving behaviors. Yet the
young adult crash problem stems from more than a lack of
knowledge among drivers. Norms, perceptions, cognitive
abilities, attitudes, culture, lifestyle, and situational
pressures all seem to contribute to decisions regarding
driving. Most of these factors imply a motivational
component to unsafe driving, i.e., people do what they are
doing for reasons that have little to do with information or
skills deficits. This research will establish what is
currently known about risk-taking by young people in a
variety of health-behavior areas, extract common elements,
and describe the relationships between these elements and
risky behavior. As part of this effort, NHTSA plans to
sponsor or co-sponsor a national symposium on risk-taking.
|Assess Impact of Advanced Technology Information Systems on Risk-taking Behavior||Risk taking appears to play a far greater role in the crashes
of younger drivers than in those of middle-aged or older
drivers. Driving research using high-fidelity simulators,
such as the planned National Advanced Driving Simulator
(NADS), permits the gathering of detailed information on driver behavior and performance under simulated high-risk
driving scenarios. Such scenarios cannot be addressed
using conventional research methods (e.g., instrumented
vehicles) due to safety concerns. A NHTSA program on
crash avoidance warning systems will identify
opportunities for crash prevention through the use of
warning systems, and will determine how warning signals
(e.g., "Approaching curve too fast!") can be effectively
presented to most drivers.
Some researchers have hypothesized that drivers increase their risky behaviors in response to improvements in highway or vehicle safety, thereby partially or even fully negating the positive effects of crash countermeasures. Accordingly, NHTSA will assess the effects of prospective crash-avoidance technologies on driver risk taking.
|Determine Utility of Addressing Specific Sub-groups of Young Drivers||While there is reason to develop countermeasures for all
young adults, due to generalized risk in that age group, all
young drivers are not equivalent risk candidates. The
question arises as to which subgroups merit special
attention due to higher levels of unsafe driving or unique
countermeasure needs. For example, the literature shows
males to be far more at-risk than females, although females
appear to be driving more like males in recent years.
This research will obtain data on young adults who engage in unsafe driving practices to identify target subgroups, determine geographic distribution, clarify patterns of unsafe driving practices, and determine other characteristics important to understanding and addressing the problem. National data collection will include the conduct of telephone surveys in the alcohol and occupant protection areas. In the alcohol area, the survey will help define strategic target groups. The occupant protection survey will focus on knowledge of and attitudes toward occupant protection issues, but will also collect data on driving habits to identify groups appropriate for targeting. Both surveys will query the total adult population, but will collect data from sufficient numbers of younger drivers to allow adequate analysis. Additional information may be acquired through focus-group interviews to explore particular issues in more depth, in order to obtain sufficient understanding of complex issues to permit development of appropriate countermeasure strategies.
A separate research project will be collecting and analyzing data concerning young employees ages 16 through 24. The project will focus on young employees who are employed full- or part-time and are not included in school-based countermeasure programs. The project will identify the extent to which young employees are at greater risk than their older counterparts, and will assist NHTSA in developing programs to reduce those risks.
|Establish Feasibility of Advanced Technology to Reduce Crashes||In addition to its ongoing basic research on driver
performance and crash causation, NHTSA has underway or
in planning a series of programs to determine how, and
how effectively, advanced technology crash avoidance
countermeasure concepts can reduce crashes. NHTSA's
near-term programs will develop performance
specifications for systems dealing with rear-end,
intersection/crossing path, lane change/merging/backing,
and single-vehicle roadway departure crashes. (Later
programs will develop performance specifications for
night/vision enhancement systems and rapid response
emergency medical service "Mayday" systems.) The
single-vehicle roadway departure and emergency medical
service projects will be highly relevant to younger drivers
as they are over-represented in these crashes.
Current NHTSA-funded research focuses on developing methods of detecting reduced performance associated with drowsiness and fatigue, a problem in which younger drivers are somewhat over-involved, relative to other age groups. Later, this research will focus on erratic driving behaviors and performance, areas particularly relevant to younger driver crashes.
|Determine Role of Dynamic Vehicle Cues on Driver||Driving involves a continuous interaction of the driver with
his or her vehicle and the roadway environment. Visual
cues from the roadway are obviously of paramount
importance. Less obvious is the importance of motion cues
from within the driver (e.g., kinesthetic, vestibular) and
certain vehicle response cues (e.g., body roll, apparent
oversteer/understeer). IVHS (Intelligent Vehicle and Highway System) technologies present the possibility that
such cues may be manipulated in the future to provide
enhanced feedback to the driver to decrease the likelihood
of vehicle loss-of-control. The nature of the feedback may
even be adjustable based on factors such as driver age or
risk. This research program will determine the effects of
various combinations of cues on driver performance.
|Program Development||The following research projects focus on developing
strategies for addressing problem areas and generating
suitable countermeasure elements to address specific
|Tailor Program Strategies to the Needs and Characteristics of Specific Target Populations||An important ingredient to reducing motor vehicle crashes
and injuries is developing strategies that effectively counter
underlying reasons for engaging in unsafe driving
behaviors. To the extent that such reasons reflect cultural
or group norms, countermeasures should be tailored to the
needs of specific target groups. Moreover, groups may
differ in their receptivity to varying information messages
or to varying methods for inducing behavior change.
This research program will determine educational and other techniques that will be effective with different population subgroups. For example, NHTSA's norms research program currently is working on developing techniques to elicit anti-DWI behavior from drivers, including younger drivers. This and other projects will be used to develop approaches, strategies, materials, and programs applicable to specific groups.
|Develop Methods and Materials to Improve Enforcement and Adjudication Involving Younger Drivers||
Safety legislation and its enforcement have been crucial
contributors to the gains made in highway safety. Yet there
is significant room for improvement in enforcement and
adjudication. This is particularly true in dealing with
younger drivers, whose levels of arrests and citations for
certain violations (e.g., DUI/DWI among drivers younger
than 21 years of age) fall below what one would expect
from their contribution to the motor vehicle crash problem.
Developing improved enforcement techniques, plus
developing materials to assist the police and courts in enforcing the laws, should add to the safety benefits
already accrued from current deterrence efforts.
This effort will determine the types of sanctions that would be most effective in deterring youth from proscribed driving behaviors and develop methods and materials to improve enforcement of highway safety laws for younger drivers. For example, NHTSA is funding an inter-agency agreement with the Department of Justice to (1) examine issues of enforcement, adjudication, and prosecution of drinking and driving laws among underage drinking drivers; (2) develop technical assistance materials to support alcohol enforcement efforts with underage drinking drivers; and (3) set up demonstration sites to test the materials. NHTSA also has awarded grants to the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) to conduct a series of statewide workshops for their respective constituencies on youth adjudication and enforcement issues.
Other planned research includes studies of the use of enforcement technology, such as passive alcohol sensors and roadside videotaping, that may have relevance to younger drivers.
|Determine Bases for Motorcycle Operation With Improper||
Crash data show substantial numbers of riders not properly
licensed to operate the motorcycle. This evidence suggests
that many riders may not have the requisite skills and
training to operate safely in traffic. This research effort
will determine reasons for improper licensure so that
strategies may be developed to increase proper licensure
among young motorcyclists. Promising procedures will be
|Develop Methods for Involving Parents in Building Safe Driving Habits in Their Children||
Parents have great potential to influence their children,
being experienced drivers who, for better or worse, provide
models of "acceptable" driving behavior. Parents could
also monitor and shape the performance of their offspring.
However, they are rarely employed in programmatic efforts
to build safe driving habits among younger drivers.
NHTSA previously conducted research to assess the
feasibility of developing programs to assist parents in
preventing drinking and driving by their children. The
results suggested some barriers to parental involvement in
traffic safety programs that would need to be overcome.
Research on how best to do so must wait until we know which youth subgroups are most important to target. It may well be that some of the target groups will consist of persons for whom there is little hope for obtaining effective parental influence. There is a need first to identify the target groups and gain an understanding of them. Consequently, this research must follow identification of target groups in order to make decisions about whom to target for parental involvement and determine effective methods for eliciting this involvement.
The following research projects examine existing programs
to document their implementation processes or assess the
extent to which they meet their outcome objectives.
|Evaluate Implementation and Effectiveness of Safety Programs Directed Toward Younger Drivers||
While numerous highway safety programs are
implemented across the nation, relatively few undergo
rigorous evaluation. Thus, there is a great deal of activity
but not much information on what works. Even with an
area such as provisional licensing, where there is evidence
of effectiveness, questions persist about how best to
implement the program and which components may be
NHTSA's research agenda includes evaluation of countermeasure activities to document their effectiveness and/or determine the best ways of implementing the prevention method. For example, lower BAC limits for drivers under age 21 will receive further study through crash data analyses conducted for States having the lower limits, as well as States not having lower limits. NHTSA also will be evaluating provisional licensing in those States which have implemented a provisional system that contains a majority of the components recommended in the NHTSA/AAMVA model program. The evaluations will include an attempt to assess individual system components.
Other planned activities include evaluation of improved motorcycle licensing procedures and programs and field test of programs that support 21 MDA legislation.
|Evaluate Regional Underage Drinking Program||Underage drinking poses a significant threat to the safety of younger drivers. NHTSA awarded a grant in FY 92 to the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) to conduct a regional effort to combat this problem. The three year project involves the development of an action plan for the Washington, DC region, its implementation, and evaluation. The first year of the grant involved the collection of baseline data to assess the nature of the problem and what should be done to address it. In addition, the project has initiated a process evaluation of the regional effort, and has been working to identify appropriate outcome measures for an evaluation of program effectiveness.|
| Go to Chapter 2||