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Reducing crashes and injuries among young drivers: what kind of prevention should we be focusing on?

Reducing crashes and injuries among young drivers

Every year, drivers throughout the world are killed or injured in road traffic. Young drivers run a greater risk everywhere, and this problem is still largely unsolved. Better understanding of the underlying processes could, however, be a useful tool in preventive endeavours. To change a young driver’s goals behind driving and the context in which it is done, a variety of different methods of persuasion should be tested.

Both ‘‘soft’’ and ‘‘hard’’ methods should be used. For example, communication and increased enforcement may be used simultaneously. Communication campaigns should highlight the dangers of unsafe behaviour and in particular target young males. Communication campaigns that employ persuasive, emotional messages are most effective where young drivers are concerned.

Research shows that attitudes about safety are formed at an early age, long before legal driving, and therefore it would also be important to target young adolescents. Laws need enforcement to be effective and should target areas of particular risk to young drivers. Driver education or communication campaigns cannot be expected to radically change a young person’s life goals.

For that purpose, active learning methods that make use of the learner’s own experiences have to be applied. Special courses for young drivers designed to make individuals conscious of their personal tendencies and the type of social context that affects their driving behaviour could be helpful, whether offered via the ordinary school system or at driving schools.

Road traffic is the cause of one of the world’s greatest public health problems. In 2000, 1.26 million people died as a result of road crashes, representing 25% of all deaths caused by injuries. The majority of road deaths take place in developing countries, and the economic cost to the developing world amounts to 100 billion US dollars annually—more than the entire amount of money spent on development aid. The significance of traffic as a health problem is rising, especially in developing countries. Worldwide, road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for people aged 15–44.

When, as in Sweden and many other countries, the ambition is to improve on an already high level of road safety, huge efforts are required. Existing measures have to be further developed, but this is probably not enough. As a result, new methods will have to be devised, especially with regard to young, recently qualified car drivers. The 18–24 year age category is the one with the highest risk of all new drivers. This is largely attributable to lack of experience of car driving and other age related factors.