The young novice driver problem is often considered to stem from two main factors, age and inexperience. This distinction between age and inexperience corresponds to what several authors have termed driving style (or behavior) and driving skill (or performance). Driving skill, which is expected to improve with practice or training, is concerned with performance limitations on aspects of the driving task, such as the time taken to respond to traffic hazards. Driving style relates to decision-making aspects of driving -- that is, the manner in which people chooses to drive or driving habits that have developed over time. Such choices may include, for instance, driving speed and how close one drives to the car in front.
Adolescents and young adults are at high risk of injury and death from motor vehicle accidents. Rates of death in motor vehicle crashes peak at age 16 and remain elevated through age 35. With the exception of the elderly, drivers ages 15-35 are the most likely to be involved in, to be drivers in and to lose their lives in a motor vehicle crash. Adolescents represented 7% of all drivers, but were drivers in 15% of fatal crashes and 18% of police-reported crashes in 1999. Experienced young adult drivers also have high rates of motor vehicle crashes and fatalities (NCIPC, 2000), with drivers ages 21-34 representing 26% of all drivers but accounting for 31% of fatal crashes in 1999. Alcohol involvement was recorded in 3% of property damage crashes, 5% of injury crashes and 22% of fatal crashes of drivers ages 15-20 in 2000 (NCIPC, 2000).
Risky driving and serious driving outcomes are associated with many driver characteristics such as inexperience, emotional states, risky driving attitudes, thrill seeking, personality factors and substance use. Alcohol accounts for the largest portion of substance-related motor vehicle crashes among young adults; nonsubstance-related risky driving behaviors (e.g., tailgating, speeding, other risky driving) also contribute to high injury and fatal crash rates among young drivers.
Although few longitudinal studies have examined the developmental precursors of risky driving, available research does provide evidence of a longitudinal association between problem behaviors and problem driving practices such as drunk driving. High rates of motor vehicle crashes and the scarcity of longitudinal studies of young risky drivers highlight the need for research on these topics.
Problem Behavior Theory and risky driving
Problem Behavior Theory (PBT) provides a framework for examining environmental, personality and behavioral precursors of risky driving. PBT classifies behavior as conventional (i.e., socially prescribed/encouraged) or problem behavior (i.e., socially proscribed/prohibited behavior) and recognizes that problem behaviors tend to co-occur within individuals, resulting in a "problem behavior syndrome." During adolescence, problem behavior includes both age-graded (i.e., proscribed for adolescents but not adults) and generally prohibited behaviors (i.e., illegal behaviors). But "problem behavior" is not restricted to adolescence (Donovan, 1993). Involvement in socially proscribed behavior occurs among people of all ages, allowing PBT to be applied to nonadolescent samples.
PBT recognizes five systems of variables. Three of these systems--the