A new Australian study finds that young adults who take risks driving are more likely to experience mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Conversely, mental distress also leads to risky driving patterns among youth.
In the research, investigators combined two well-acknowledged conceptions.
First is the acknowledgment that young drivers are more accident-prone and are more likely to be involved in a crash in which someone dies than older drivers – with the crashes often the result of risky behavior by novice drivers.
Second is the knowledge that psychological distress, such as depression and anxiety, has been linked to risky behavior in adolescents, including unprotected sex, smoking and high alcohol consumption.
Accordingly, researchers sought to determine if there was a similar link between psychological distress and risk taking in young drivers, such as speeding, not wearing a seat belt and using a mobile phone while at the wheel.
Investigators in Queensland, Australia, asked 761 young novice drivers to fill out an online questionnaire to assess their psychological distress and their driving behavior. The novice drivers were aged 17-25 years and had a provisional (intermediate) driver’s license which enabled them to drive unaccompanied.
Psychological distress alone was linked to 8.5 percent of the increased risky driving behavior of young adults. The association was greater in women than in men; 9.5 percent of the variance in risky driving could be explained by psychological distress in women compared with 6.7 percent in men.
The researchers suggested authorities could send similar questionnaires to young adults to help identify young drivers most at risk of psychological distress and therefore at higher risk for an accident.
“Young people presenting to medical and mental health professionals could be screened for current psychological distress, particularly if they have incurred injury through risky behavior,” they said.
These drivers could be targeted with specific road safety countermeasures and efforts to improve their mental well-being by monitoring them for signs of depression and anxiety.
Source: BMJ-British Medical Journal