Teen drivers lack good role models

Many teenagers drive as dangerously on real city streets as do characters in movies about reckless driving, researchers at San Diego State University have found.

After surveying 2,310 Southern California teens between 15 and 18 years old, the researchers found that these young drivers felt, on average, they were speeding only if they were driving 90 m.p.h. or above.

In addition, teen traffic violators are less concerned with many forms of risky driving behavior, such as drunken driving, drag racing, or reckless driving. In fact, 62 percent of the group admitted to being in a car while such dangerous behavior was taking place.

"It's discomforting to learn what these young drivers think is safe driving behavior," says Sheila Sarkar, a civil and environmental engineering professor and director of SDSU's California Institute of Transportation Safety. "These results strongly indicate that teenagers are receiving the wrong messages about driving and being safe on our streets and freeways."

Dr. Sarkar says numerous factors contribute to teenagers' dangerously flip attitudes behind the wheel, including poor examples of driving from friends and parents, video games that emphasize speeding and evading police, and the popularity of movies that glorify reckless driving, such as "2 Fast 2 Furious," which opens in theaters nationwide later this week.

The survey group consisted of 1,430 teens who were seeking their first driver's license and had an average age of 15.6, and 880 teens who had committed a traffic offense and had an average age of 16.8.

When asked what they considered to be the threshold of speeding, the teen violator group's average response was 93 m.p.h. The average response of student drivers was not much lower: 88 m.p.h.

Of the teen violators surveyed, nearly 73 percent reported they had been exposed firsthand to reckless driving, speeding, driving while intoxicated, or other dangerous driving practices. Meanwhile, more than half (55 percent) of learning drivers reported the same exposure.

Sarkar says the study found that young men are more likely than young women to have driven while drunk, drag raced, driven recklessly, or used drugs just before driving. Girls also considered drunken driving, sleepy driving, and angry driving to be much more dangerous than the boys did.

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