Mental Stress Doesn't Distract Young Drivers at the Wheel

May 18, 2010 By Amy Sutton

Teen drivers are four times more likely to be involved in motor vehicle crashes than older drivers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but anxiety and depression do not play a role in teen motor vehicle accidents, a new study finds.

“Psychological distress does not appear to pose the risk we thought it did for in young people,” said lead author Alexandra Martiniuk, Ph.D., a senior research fellow at the George Institute for International Health at the University of Sydney in Australia.

The study, which appears online in the , followed 20,822 new drivers in New South Wales for two years. Participants from ages 17 to 24 reported whether they had symptoms of psychological distress, such as nervousness, restlessness, depression or sadness. Researchers used police database records to link teens’ responses to future motor vehicle crashes.

During the study, 1,495 teens and young adults had one or more crashes and 289 had a single crash, but stress levels did not appear to raise a teen’s risk.

“No group of young drivers with psychological distress had an increased risk of crash.

We did not find an increased risk of motor vehicle crash for young drivers who had severe — a level of distress that correlates with a mental health diagnosis,” Martiniuk said.

In fact, teens with some anxiety or depression were 15 percent less apt to crash their vehicles over the two-year period, Martiniuk said.

The authors theorized that with symptoms of mild anxiety and depression might be less prone to take risks and more likely to be vigilant behind the wheel.

“I was really surprised that there was not a relationship between being in a car accident and being slightly or significantly distressed. The findings are counterintuitive and that makes them all the more interesting,” said Kim Dolgin, Ph.D., an adolescent psychologist at Ohio Wesleyan University.

Dolgin — who had no affiliation with the study — called the data analysis “sophisticated and appropriate” and said that the large sample size strengthened the study’s findings.

However, Dolgin also said that the time lag between when they measured participants’ mood states and the crash could skew results.

“Teen mood states are labile. Teens can be pretty stressed this month and then feel fine next month. So what we don't know from this study is, ‘If I am depressed and anxious right now, am I more likely to be in a car accident?’ That’s an unfortunate limitation,” Dolgin said.

Explore further: Study finds provider-focused intervention improves HPV vaccination rates

More information: Martiniuk ALC, et al. Does psychological distress increase the risk for motor vehicle crashes in young people? Findings from the DRIVE study. J Adol Health online, 2010.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Rural roads dangerous for young drivers

Sep 22, 2009

Results from Australia's largest study of young drivers have shown that they are at significant risk of crash on rural roads. According to researchers from The George Institute, young drivers living in rural areas are more ...

Risky driving puts P-platers at high danger of crash

Jul 23, 2009

Australia's largest study of young drivers has shown that risky driving habits are putting young drivers at a significantly increased risk of crashing, irrespective of their perceptions about road safety. The study surveyed ...

Study to make public roads safer for farmers, drivers

Nov 18, 2008

Population growth and significant increases in development across the country are leading to changes in traffic and driving behavior in many areas where motorists share the road with farmers moving their equipment – changes ...

Recommended for you

How can we help manage eating disorders?

2 hours ago

These guidelines are for the clinical management of eating disorders They are intended to provide current evidence based guidance on the assessment and treatment of people with eating disorders by psychiatrists and other ...

More aging boomers, but fewer doctors to care for them

5 hours ago

By 2030, the last of the Baby Boomer generation will have turned 65 years old, putting the population of "senior boomers" in the United States at approximately 71 million. Currently, only about 7,000 certified geriatricians – ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.