Risk-taking Increases In A Group

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Our sense of danger diminishes in direct proportion to the sense of security we experience at any given time. One such time when we feel secure is when we are in a group we feel we really belong to. For example, many people would not risk their lives or dare take certain risks if they were by themselves, but they do so when they are in certain company. If it is true of adults, it's even more true of teenagers because they are immortal and indestructible to begin with-theoretically speaking.

It is a well-established fact that drivers who are 16 and 17 years old run a much higher risk of being involved in an accident than older drivers. New research shows that the more teenage passengers there are in a car, the greater the risk they have of dying in an accident.

A study published in the March 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), shows how risky it is for one teenager to get a ride from another. A 16-year old driver with three or more passengers is three times more likely to have a fatal accident than a teenager driving alone.

These findings are so crucial that I want to stress them in another way. Parents! Your teenagers driving by themselves are relatively safe. But, when they are driving or riding with other teens, they are not. Don't let them!

In contrast to the increased risk for teens, the risk of death for drivers between 30 and 59 years of age decreases with each additional passenger. While presence of another teen in the car increases the risk of accident, presence of an older adult in the same vehicle reduces it.

The study published in JAMA also shows that the death rate for teenage drivers significantly increases when they drive after 10 p.m., and rises even more significantly if they drive after midnight. Furthermore, if there are teenage passengers in the car, the night driving death rate increases even more dramatically.

These are national statistics regarding teens driving. Does anything from this apply to the people of the State of Tennessee? Definitely. If Nashville teens are true representatives of teens living in other parts of Tennessee, the risk appears to be even greater.

Metro Health Department of Nashville surveyed 1300 local public high school students regarding a variety of risky behaviors including suicidal attempts, smoking, alcohol and drug use, sexual activity and use of seat belts. Compared to national averages, fewer Nashville teens wear seat belts. They also attempt suicide more frequently. Tennessee parents and teens need to be extra careful regarding risky driving behaviors.

Now, let's look at some positive news. A graduated licensing system is shown to reduce teenage driver crashes. About half of the states now have some form of graduated licensing system. Ten states have restrictions on teens carrying other teenage passengers. For example, California prohibits teen drivers from carrying teen passengers without the presence of an adult over 25 for 6 months after obtaining a driver's license. A graduated licensing system requires teenage drivers to first prove themselves capable of driving in the presence of an adult. Then they are permitted to drive with restrictions for night driving and carrying passengers before graduating to full driving privileges.

Driving is a complex skill. It requires years to learn and master all the intricacies involved in negotiating difficult and unusual driving circumstances. Teenage drivers need adequate supervised experience from adults present in the vehicle while driving. Late evening hours can sometime bring on excitement and euphoria that can affect driving behavior.

Other teen passengers in the car may be far too distracting. They may also be, unknowingly perhaps, contributing to adventurous and risky driving multiplied by a false sense of security and invulnerability. Use of alcohol and drugs should invoke appropriate driving restrictions. Teens need training to control their anger and frustration while driving. Therefore, parents themselves should demonstrate emotional discipline while driving and then ride with their children to remind them to do the same until they learn to control their reactions.

The State of Tennessee seems about ready to join the ten states that have night driving as well as passenger restrictions for drivers between the ages of 15 to 17. According to the bill in front of the Tennessee lawmakers, 15-year olds will get a "learner's permit" that will permit them to drive between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.. The "intermediary license" will permit 16-year olds to drive between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.. Once they have held the intermediary license for a year, they can get an unrestricted license.

In the final analysis, enforcement of such laws depends on parental response and initiative. Parents must explain the rationale of such a law to their children, demonstrate safe driving habits and emotional control from their own example, and supervise them until they can do the same.

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Copyright 2000, Mind Publications 


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