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The effect of male teenage passengers on male teenage drivers : Findings from a driving simulator study

In: Accident analysis and prevention. Vo. 58 (Sept. 2013), p. 132-139.

Authors: Marie Claude Ouimet, Anuj K. Pradhan, Bruce G. Simons-Morton, Gautam Divekar, Hasmik Mehranian, Donald L. Fisher

Studies have shown that teenage drivers are less attentive, more frequently exhibit risky driving behavior, and have a higher fatal crash risk in the presence of peers. The effects of direct peer pressure and conversation on young drivers have been examined. Little is known about the impact on driving performance of the presence of a non-interacting passenger and subtle modes of peer influence, such as perceived social norms. The goal of this study was to examine if teenagers would engage in more risky driving practices and be less attentive in the presence of a passenger (vs. driving alone) as well as with a risk-accepting (vs. risk-averse) passenger. A confederate portrayed the passenger's characteristics mainly by his non-verbal attitude. The relationship between driver characteristics and driving behavior in the presence of a passenger was also examined. Thirty-six male participants aged 16–17 years old were randomly assigned to drive with a risk-accepting or risk-averse passenger. Main outcomes included speed, headway, gap acceptance, eye glances at hazards, and horizontal eye movement. Driver characteristics such as tolerance of deviance, susceptibility to peer pressure, and self-esteem were measured. Compared to solo driving, the presence of a passenger was associated with significantly fewer eye glances at hazards and a trend for fewer horizontal eye movements. Contrary to the hypothesis, however, Passenger Presence was associated with waiting for a greater number of vehicles to pass before initiating a left turn. Results also showed, contrary to the hypothesis, that participants with the risk-accepting passenger maintained significantly longer headway with the lead vehicle and engaged in more eye glances at hazards than participants with the risk-averse passenger. Finally, when driving with the passenger, earlier initiation of a left turn in a steady stream of oncoming vehicles was significantly associated with higher tolerance of deviance and susceptibility to peer pressure, while fewer eye glances at hazards was linked to lower self-esteem. While the results of this study were mixed, they suggest that the presence of a teenage passenger can affect some aspects of teenage driver behavior even in the absence of overt pressure and distraction. Results are discussed in relation to theoretical concepts of social influence and social facilitation models.