NZSM Online

Get TurboNote+ desktop sticky notes

Interclue makes your browsing smarter, faster, more informative

SciTech Daily Review

Webcentre Ltd: Web solutions, Smart software, Quality graphics


Young Highway Cowboys

Better knowledge of the driving culture of the young may make our roads safer.

Niki Harré

We all know what it is like to have a car hurtle past us, stereo blasting, leaving us feeling as if we have experienced a narrow escape from severe physical harm. When we look up to see the driver (if we get time!) we are not surprised to find it is a young man.

Young men, the common belief is, are reckless hoons, who drive in a world of their own. My research, conducted for a PhD thesis in Psychology at the University of Auckland, was aimed at discovering how young people were behaving on the road, and what attitudes lay behind their driving habits. Are they indeed "highway warriors"?

A total of 636 sixth form students from a variety of Auckland secondary schools were surveyed about their driving behaviours and beliefs. While most of the time the young people reported sensible attitudes and behaviours, both as passengers and drivers, there were a few areas of concern.

Licence License

The first of these was the number of young people who reported driving without licences. Despite the legal requirement to have a learner's licence before starting to drive, 69% of the males and 56% of the females who said they were learner drivers, did not have these licences. Even of those who reported driving three times a week or more, 18% of the males and 28% of the females were completely unlicensed.

Also of concern was that young people on restricted licences (an intermediate licensing step between a learners and a full licence), reported often breaking the conditions of this type of licence. For example, around two-thirds reported sometimes carrying passengers, which is prohibited.

In detailed follow-up interviews with some of the young drivers, it appeared that part of the problem is lack of police enforcement. One young man on a restricted licence said he had been pulled up by the police several times while carrying passengers, and never received a penalty. Clearly if we want young people to take the road rules seriously we have to resource the police adequately to be able to enforce the rules.

Drinking and driving levels appeared to be low, and the great majority of those surveyed knew that it was not safe to drink and drive. However, most had been the passenger of a drinking driver at some time.

Contrary to what one might first suspect, it was not usually a peer who had driven them while under the influence, but their father. A finding like this is a reminder that adolescents are a part of a wider society, and if they have some bad habits, these are very often modelled off their elders (or TV heroes).

If drinking and driving is something young people frown on, unfortunately the same cannot be said for speeding. Most of those surveyed reported breaking both rural and urban speed limits, with the young men tending to go faster on the open road that the young women.

Young Men

Young men did seem to have somewhat more dangerous habits over all than young women. They were more likely to report breaking a wide variety of traffic laws such as passing on a double yellow line and going through red lights. They also had attitudes that were more impulsive and macho than the young women. They were more likely to report distrusting the police, and had some tendency to believe that they were invulnerable to injury and crashes.

For young New Zealanders, and particularly the young men, getting a car or a motorcycle is a step towards being adult. Everyone is equal on the road, and teenagers, who may not be having much success at school or in looking for a job, have a chance to demonstrate their skills. Weaving in and out of traffic, pulling into small gaps at intersections, and following close behind are all ways in which young men can demonstrate that they are good at something.

It is not so much that young men take risks, as that they like to drive to the maximum of their capabilities. As a consequence they leave little room for error, and so sometimes they crash, and sometimes they die.

To try and reduce the road toll in this age group, I believe we need to start in our primary schools, gradually building up a driving culture in which safety and consideration for others are paramount. Perhaps secondary school students could help supervise primary school patrols, or design safe routes for young children to school. Adolescence is a time for discovery and experimentation, but this has got to be kept off the roads

Niki Harré is a lecturer in psychology at University of Auckland.