“They’re lunatics on the road”: Exploring the normative influences of parents, friends, and police on young novices’ risky driving decisions

  • Bridie Scott-Parker, Barry Watson, Mark J. King, Melissa K. Hyde
  • Safety Science, November 2012, Elsevier
  • DOI: 10.1016/j.ssci.2012.05.014

Exploring the influences of parents, friends, and police on young novices' risky driving decisions

What is it about?

We know that young novice drivers experience much greater risk of crashing, and being injured or killed in car crashes, than older more experienced drivers. We wanted to investigate the applicability of Akers’ social learning theory and its relavance to young driver decisions, particularly risky young driver decisions. Twenty-one young drivers participated in small group or individual interviews in a local shopping centre during the Christmas holiday period. Young drivers aged 16 to 25 years with a learner or a provisional (intermediate) driver’s licence shared their perspectives regarding their driving decisions.

Why is it important?

Four important decision-related themes emerged. Theme one related to driving rewards: young drivers had experienced rewards for risky driving, including non-social rewards (such as getting there quicker) and social rewards (such as friends thinking they were cool for engaging in such behaviours). The second theme related to punishments for risky driving behaviour. For example, non-social punishment included such factors as potentially hurting themselves or damaging their vehicle, which would mean they would be without transport for a period of time. Social punishment, like punishment by friends, was important. However, the young drivers recognised that their friends were unlikely to punish them for any behaviours. Moreover, young drivers discussed how the reaction of their friends may be related to the age of their friends (e.g., friends who were a similar age would think that burnouts were cool, whereas friends who were much older would comment that risky driving behaviour was just not worth it). Young drivers also reported that they had different experiences of punishment by their parents. Indeed, parents were unlikely to punish if the young driver incurred demerit points or damaged their own vehicle, commenting along the lines of ‘it’s your car’. Some parents would react angrily, in which case young drivers reported they would be unlikely to engage in risky driving behaviour. There was also a mixed response regarding punishment by police. There was some inconsistency in police punishment, with some young drivers reporting they had been able to talk themselves out of a ticket, and therefore they continued to engage in risky driving behaviours. Some young drivers did accept police authority, and therefore were very careful in the way they drove to be sure they complied with graduated licencing and general road rules. Other young drivers felt that whether they were punished or not by police depended on other factors (e.g., the police may not be bothered to write out a ticket, therefore it might be easier for the young driver to talk themselves out of the ticket). Conversely, some young drivers felt that the police deliberately targetted young drivers as they had to meet punishment quotas. The third theme related to the influence of parents on the young driver’s behaviour. Some young drivers reported that their parents had no influence on their behaviour, and that they did not drive the same way in which their parents drove. Other young drivers reported that their parents indirectly influenced their behaviour, in that sometimes they did what their parents did, while other times they decided that they wouldn’t drive like their parents drove. Parents were also directly influential on young driver behaviour: a learner advised they had to drive the way their parents drove because their parents were seated beside them. Other young drivers said that when their parents were in the car with them they drove the way their parents would like, but when their parents weren’t in the car with them they drove the way that they would like. Regarding the influence of their friends, the fourth theme, there was also mixed experiences. Some young drivers said that they didn’t care what their friends thought about their driving. Others reported that what their friends did influenced their own behaviour strongly. For example, some young drivers reported that they now approach corners more carefully following experiences of their friends approaching corners too quickly. Yet other young drivers say that their friends are directly influential (e.g., “if they say go faster or something I would probably go faster”).


Dr Bridie Scott-Parker
University of the Sunshine Coast

For effective intervention in young driver road safety, we need to understand that for young drivers, driving is influenced by many more factors than their own attitudes, driving experiences and age. Of particular relevance are social influences – positive and negative – of parents, friends, police, which play a role in their on-road driving behaviours, as well as factors such as rewards and punishments.

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The following have contributed to this page: Dr Bridie Scott-Parker