Each year, many teenage drivers in the United States succumb to injuries caused by accidents or are admitted to emergency rooms for treatment of wounds sustained during motor vehicle crashes. While reasons for such accidents may be myriad, a group of researchers has suggested that mental health problems like attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and conduct disorder may be responsible for increasing delusions concerning driving simulator, resulting in risk taking tendencies while behind the wheel.
While the relationship between age and driving behavior has been explored previously, the study found how existing emotional disorders may also be responsible for increasing risk of crashes by newly licensed teenage drivers. Published recently in the journal Nursing Research, the study findings are based on a detailed examination of 60 adolescents aged 16-17 years who had got their license in the past three months.
Do mental illnesses contribute to risky driving?
For study purpose, the researchers tested the teenagers by making use of a high-fidelity driving simulator that helped gauge the responses of the participants to common circumstances involving crash that can be easily avoided. The teenagers were then required to answer the questionnaire given to them. The questions concerned risky driving behavioral traits, including driving at high speed, not wearing a seat belt or driving around with other teens at night.
The researchers then judged the respondents based on signs of mental illnesses by turning their attention on three conditions typically related to risky driving. The three conditions included signs of ADHD, conduct disorder and depressive disorder. The guardians of the respondents were also asked to fill in details concerning their wards’ mental health condition.
Evaluation of the details provided by the teenagers highlighted inattention as the only symptom of mental disorientation associated with errors during assessment of the driving simulator. The more the score for inattention as rated by the teen respondents, the greater the potential of committing errors while driving. The findings also underlined how teens suffering from major depression committed lesser number of errors in the simulator.
Effects of inattention, ADHD on driving
Elucidating the results, lead author Dr. Catherine McDonald from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing said, “Inattention is associated with more errors in the driving simulator, and self-reported symptoms of hyperactivity and conduct disorder are independently associated with self-reported risky driving behaviors.”
The study found inattention to be the common cause of motor vehicle crashes. However, it also pinpointed that adolescents who had rated themselves high in terms of hyperactivity or impulsive behavior and conduct disorder manifested increased risky behavior while driving. The parents’ reports of their teenaged children’s mental health problems were not associated with self-reported signs of risky driving behaviors by teens.
The findings indicate how issues pertaining to weak mental health could be one of the reasons for crashes by adolescents who had just received their driving licenses. The researchers also stressed that signs of hyperactivity and impulsive tendencies, not necessarily the symptoms of ADHD, may be associated with greater risk of causing accidents while driving. However, the teens who had qualified for follow-up of ADHD and conduct disorder were more prone to risky driving.
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