Young Novice Driver Subtypes: Relationship to High-Risk Behavior, Traffic Accident Record, and Simulator Driving Performance

Article excerpt

Two studies were undertaken to obtain empirical support for the existence of driver subtypes in the young novice driver population. In Study 1, 198 participants (55% male) aged 16 to 19 completed an extensive self-report questionnaire. Five novice driver subtypes were identified through a cluster analysis of personality and driving-related measures. Two relatively high-risk or deviant subtypes (Clusters 1 and 5) were identified, characterized by high levels of driving-related aggression, competitive speed, driving to reduce tension, sensation seeking, assaultiveness, and hostility. The individuals in Cluster 5 also reported low levels of emotional adjustment and high levels of depression, resentfulness, and irritability. In Study 2, a subset of participants from each of the subtypes drove several scenarios in a driving simulator. The subtypes differed in their responses to an emergency situation and several potential traffic hazards. They also differed in the proficiency with which they could control their at tention among concurrent tasks in highworkload situations. Most of the significant differences were related to lower levels of driving skill among the two most deviant subtypes (Clusters 1 and 5). The potential applications of this research include the design of training programs and other countermeasures to address the young novice driver crash problem.


The problem of young driver safety is well documented in terms of the size and nature of the problem. It is well established, for example, that young drivers play a disproportionately large role in traffic crashes. In Australia, 16- to 24-year-olds comprise about 20% of the driving population but account for around 35% of fatal and 50% of injury crashes (Macdonald, 1994). The situation in many overseas countries, including the United States (U. S. Department of Education, 1988) and Canada (Transport Canada, 1984), is similar to that in Australia: Young drivers are more likely to be injured or killed than their more experienced counterparts.

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 (Deery & Love, 1996a, 1996b; Elander, West, & French, 1993) 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 choose 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.

Research on driving skill indicates that compared with more experienced drivers, novice drivers' performance is inferior in several ways (see Mayhew & Simpson, 1995, for a review). The skills most critical to the crash problem of novice drivers include hazard perception (e.g., detecting, recognizing, and dealing with traffic hazards), attentional control (e.g., attending to the right things, in the right amounts, at the right time), time-sharing (e.g., resource management and attention switching while undertaking two or more concurrent tasks), and calibration (e.g., matching one's performance with the task demands).

There is also some evidence that younger drivers are more likely to adopt a risky driving style than are older drivers. A relationship has been found between youth and leaving shorter distances to the car in front (Evans & Wasielewski, 1983), adopting a faster driving speed (Wasielewski, 1984), accepting narrower gaps when entering traffic (Bottom & Ashworth, 1978), and running yellow lights (Koneci, Ebbesen, & Koneci, 1976).

The concept of a subgroup of "young problem drivers" is often advocated in the literature. …