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Drivers' Attitudes While Learning May Predict Future Road Performance

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 23 (HealthDay News) -- If your teenager thinks like Mario Andretti before he gets his license, chances are he will act like the famous race car driver once he is alone behind the wheel, new research suggests.

New drivers' attitudes about speed and risk-taking predict which ones will become potentially dangerous on the road after they are fully licensed, the British study authors found.

Their findings suggest that more needs to be done to shape these attitudes when people are learning to drive, rather than focusing only on driving skills.

The study included about 1,600 participants, aged 14 to 23, who were asked their views about risky driving and driver behaviors in 2004 and again in 2007. In 2004, only 18 percent of the participants were fully licensed drivers, compared with 64 percent in 2007.

In 2004, fully licensed drivers were more likely than either non-drivers or beginner drivers to endorse risky driving behaviors. Riskier attitudes were associated with having held a full license for longer, having done more driving miles and having committed more speeding violations, according to the study, which was published online Jan. 23 in the journal Injury Prevention.

By 2007, those who had passed their driving test since 2004 had riskier attitudes, but there was no change in attitude among those who didn't drive or were learning to drive.

The researchers also found that attitudes about speeding among fully qualified and beginner drivers in 2004 significantly predicted their actual speeding behaviors by 2007.

"One possibility is that confidence in the ability to handle speed and experience of the relatively forgiving nature of the road environment makes drivers feel that speeding is less risky than they thought initially," suggested Richard Rowe, of the department of psychology at the University of Sheffield, and colleagues.

The researchers said the learner driver stage is the best time to push the message about safety, because this is the point when new drivers start to develop their attitudes about speeding and other risky behaviors.

"It is possible that most U.K. training is focused on the control and higher-order driving skills that will be formally assessed at the expense of developing safer driving attitudes," the researchers concluded. "A focus on skills may contribute to the development of riskier attitudes as training control skills can lead to overconfidence."

More information

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation offers tips for safe driving.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Injury Prevention, news release, Jan. 23, 2013

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