The University of Texas at Austin
  • Prof analyzes aggressive teenage driving

    By Melissa Mixon
    Melissa Mixon
    Published: Oct. 21, 2010
    Transportation engineering Professor Chandra Bhat and two of his civil engineering graduate students completed a study on aggressive driving behavior and how it -- along with other driving factors -- relates to the severity of injuries sustained during a traffic accident. The subject is both professional and personal for Bhat: his daughter, Prerna, just received her driver's license.Photo: Melissa Mixon

    Parents and teen drivers take note: a pickup could be the most dangerous vehicle for a 16- to 17-year-old to drive, so much so that teens driving them are 100 percent more likely to be severely injured during a crash than a teen of the same age driving a car.

    And, despite what many state policies mandate for young drivers going through state-run driver’s license programs, in terms of risks of being seriously injured in a crash, it is more dangerous for a driver — regardless of their age — to have one teenage passenger in their vehicle instead of two or three.

    These findings are two of many from a new study by Cockrell School of Engineering transportation engineering Professor Chandra Bhat and civil engineering graduate students Rajesh Paleti and Naveen Eluru.

    The study focused on traffic data collected by safety researchers at the scene of roughly 7,000 crashes in the U.S. between January 2005 and December 2007.

    Bhat’s study is the first of its kind to examine how aggressive driving behavior — as well as other driving characteristics such as time of day and number of passengers in a vehicle — relates to the severity of injuries sustained during a traffic accident. Unlike previous reports in this field, the study gave considerable attention to small age variations in teenagers and found that the younger a driver is, the more likely he or she will drive aggressively and be involved in a serious crash.

    The research adds to the ongoing public dialogue to find countermeasures for aggressive driving and improve driver safety, especially among teenagers for which the leading causes of death are vehicle crashes.

    For Bhat, who conceived of, and directed, the study, finding these countermeasures is both professional and personal: his eldest daughter, Prerna, is 16 and just obtained her driver’s license through the state’s Graduated Driver License (GDL) Program. The program started in January 2002 and requires teens to follow a two-phase process that gradually gives them more driving independence.

    “I wanted to look at the GDL program to see if there’s something more I needed to do or know as a parent,” Bhat said.

    Bhat is already using suggestions that came out of the study with his teen daughter. He has a driving agreement with her that, among other things, restricts her from driving past 10 p.m., driving with teenage passengers in her car and driving if she’s had less than six consecutive hours of sleep.

    “It may leave my daughter thinking I am anti-teenager,” Bhat said, but it’s a reputation he is willing to hold if it means she’ll be a safer driver.

    He still has not decided what type of vehicle to get her, but he’s certain of one thing: it won’t be a pickup.

    Key findings of the research and their policy implications include:

    • Regardless of the driver’s age, traveling with a single young passenger poses the greatest risk of being in an accident where injuries sustained are severe. It is more dangerous than driving alone or driving with a group of young passengers, likely because with one passenger a driver feels an obligation to entertain or stay focused on their passenger. Because of this, Bhat and his colleagues suggest that GDL programs, many of which permit teen drivers to have a single young passenger, clamp down on this provision.
    • Drivers tend to be the most aggressive during morning rush hour, due to time pressures to reach their office or school as well as closer vehicle spacings. The study suggests that GDL programs may consider prohibiting driving to and from school during the GDL program.
    • Young adults are likely to continue driving aggressively until about 20 years of age, when accompanied by other young adults. Bhat and his colleagues suggest that concerted education and awareness campaigns on aggressive driving for adolescents ages 18-20 could help.
    • Drinking and driving is the deadliest combination for teen drivers and a parental lack of involvement may be a contributing factor in this. The study suggests that parents be required to go through a short, possibly community-based course motivating them to be proactive in managing their teen’s driving habits.
    • Teenagers driving a pickup are more likely to drive aggressively and sustain serious injuries in a crash. While a ban on pickups during the GDL program is impractical, Bhat and his colleagues recommend that it be communicated to parents as part of the program.
    • When it comes to aggressive driving behavior, a 16- to 17-year-old is 368 percent more likely to drive aggressively than those 65 or older, while a teen just a couple of years older is only 195 percent more likely. In short, the younger a teen is, the more likely he or she will drive aggressively.
    • Quote 2
      Elizabeth said on Nov. 20, 2010 at 6:49 p.m.
      With regards to increasing the driving age to 18, I think it would be a bad idea. At that point, many young people are either at college or about to enter it. Sending brand new drivers off to school would likely increase the number of serious wrecks in that age group because many will be on their own for the first time, and college students don't always make the best decisions with regards to safety. At least while students are still living at home, their parents can somewhat monitor their child's activities.
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      Nora McCullough said on Nov. 6, 2010 at 9:07 p.m.
      When looking at teenage drivers and trucks, did your study take into consideration that most teenagers that drive a truck are male?
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      frank gomez said on Oct. 29, 2010 at 1:08 p.m.
      Perhaps the 60 mph speed limit should be brought back? As I recall it was very successful, accident-wise but very unpopular with automakers. They focus their commercials on fast speeds, dramatic high performance and are targeting the younger set.
    • Quote 2
      Reeta Mehta said on Oct. 29, 2010 at 9:14 a.m.
      The minimum age requirement to get driving license should be increased to 18 years when children are little more mature as found in your study as well.
    • Quote 2
      John Conrad said on Oct. 28, 2010 at 11:19 a.m.
      Banning pickups is not a solution - the problem is the drivers who prefer them, as the study implies. Pickups don't have seat belts in the bed, but teenagers nonetheless ride there. The pickup itself has been shown in crash tests to be safer than most passenger cars. Prof. Bhat might find it useful to observe traffic at a Friday night football game in a small town (or the students leaving high schools after classes end).
    • Quote 2
      Dawn O'Neal said on Oct. 28, 2010 at 7:45 a.m.
      I teach Anthropology at Tarrant County Community College. While all I know about this study is what I see in this article, my immediate response is to wonder whether the KIND of person who would select a pick up (part of a certain pick up driving Texas image)might be more aggressive in character so that it is the selector of pick ups and not the pick up itself that is more dangerous.
    • Quote 2
      Tim said on Oct. 28, 2010 at 6:48 a.m.
      With regard to teenage injuries in pickup trucks, i don't doubt your data; however, likely as important in the analysis is the fact that pickup trucks between 2005 - 7 had almost NO safety features compared to air bags, no side curtain bags, no low tire pressure, etc. Why? The INDUSTRY refused to put them in their pickups and the GOVERNMENT went along with it. So, my point here is that while the kids are more agressive and didn't handle the different stability characteristics of the pickups, the GOV and the INDUSTRY are likely AS MUCH AT FAULT. My gut tells me that if you do this same study for vehicles in 2010 - 12, you'd find similar accident levels with trucks, but significantly different injury levels. I have 3 teenage boys who all wanted pickups, who got cars instead since NO truck had side curtain, etc., thus i refused to buy. Some manuf in the 2008-9 models offered "options", but you couldn't order such!! All this to save $200.
    • Quote 2
      breathalyzer guy said on Oct. 27, 2010 at 6:02 p.m.
      I talk to parents on a regular basis who are concerned about their teenagers drinking and driving. Some feel the solution is to breathalyzer their teens when they get home at night. This may be a deterent for the teen who knows he or she will be "tested" for alcohol use but that same teen may end up in a car where the driver is a teen who can get away with drinking. Education, that is letting your teen know how many young people die each year in car accidents is the better deterent.
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