"Hardcore" problem groups among adolescents

Their magnitude and nature, and the implications for road safety policies


Wurst, T.




Contemporary data (see for example Simpson & Mayhew, 1987; Williams, 1987) show that traffic death continues to be the leading cause of death for people aged 15-24 in all western motorised countries. But what are the reasons for this exceptionally high accident involvement of adolescent traffic participants? The first part of this paper consists of a literature review, summarising relevant psychological and psycho-social theories and international research findings. The empirical evidence supports the existence of organised patterns of adolescent risk behaviour. Risky driving behaviour emerges from these analyses as an aspect of a larger adolescent lifestyle and as embedded in the same set of personality, perceived environment, and behaviour variables as other adolescent problem behaviour such as delinquency, problem drinking, and illicit drug use. These structures of behaviour, taken together, reflect an adolescent’s way of being in the world. The utility of this concept of “lifestyle”, referring as it does to the constellation or syndrome of risk behaviour, is that it directs the attention to the adolescent as a whole actor rather than to each of the risk behaviours, one after the other. The second part of the paper consists of an empirical study among Dutch adolescents (aged 10-16). The data was taken from the ""Health Behaviour in School-aged Children"" (HBSC) Survey, which is a survey conducted every four years in a growing number of countries according to the same protocol and using the same international standard questionnaire. The results in this study suggest that there are certain identifiable groups of adolescents, who show a stronger tendency to engage not only in problem traffic behaviour, but equally also in some other problem behaviour (problem drinking, smoking, gambling and bullying). This is consistent with the idea of a syndrome of problem (risk) behaviour. The data also suggest that this tendency is stronger among males and increases during the course of adolescence. Furthermore, the data also support the notion of “lifestyle”. This means that there are certain sub-groups among the adolescent population who have lifestyle-characteristics in common: worse school-performance and health, less close and open relationship with their parents, stronger feelings of general unhappiness, and a stronger tendency to spend more time with their friends. Their upbringing seems to have less influence. Their parent’s occupation (socio-economic status) and parent’s problem behaviour have no or only moderate influence on the adolescent’s problem behaviour. Overall, these findings support the call for more comprehensive prevention- and intervention-programs, dealing not only with the specific problem traffic behaviour like drink-driving, riding as passengers with drivers who used alcohol, or seatbelt negation, but also with the whole lifestyle of the adolescent.

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SWOV, Leidschendam