Lauren Weston


Worldwide, young drivers are involved in more road traffic collisions than any other age group (Taubman & Katz, 2012). Comprehensive driver training and various forms of pre- and- post-test road safety interventions (RSIs) are in place, but young drivers continue to be involved in more at-fault, fatal collisions than older, newly qualified drivers (e.g. Emmerson, 2008; Braitman et al, 2008; Clarke et al, 2010). The evidence base to date is mixed regarding why young drivers are at a heightened risk of collision and so this thesis aims to provide further understanding about the factors underpinning young drivers’ engagement in risky driving. An evaluation of a young driver RSI, found that young males were less likely than young females to report safer attitudes and intentions after attending the RSI. We considered that this may be due to young males’ behaviour being motivated by a desire to seek rewards (e.g. the thrill of risky driving) rather than a fear of punishment which forms the basis of traditional RSIs. Two subsequent studies were conducted to ascertain whether a heightened sensitivity to reward might underpin the risk-taking behaviour of those most at risk. We found that young males and females scoring high on reward sensitivity reported engaging in more road traffic violations and displayed slower reaction times on a driving game; suggesting that young people may have a heightened sensitivity to reward, in general, and concurrently tend to accept a higher degree of risk than other drivers. We also found that reward sensitive young drivers rated road safety messages framed in terms of financial gains as most effective, suggesting that financial incentives may be a potential route to engage young drivers in the future. The findings from another study provided insight into the precise mechanisms at play in the relationship between young drivers and their peer passengers, and the evaluation of the pilot peer-to-peer RSI showed how it might be possible to improve young drivers’ intentions to drive safely by modifying the norm that risky driving is an appropriate way to attain social prestige within a peer group. The thesis offers a significant contribution to the literature by establishing empirically the effect of reward sensitivity on young drivers’ engagement in risky driving and suggesting multiple ways to better improve young drivers’ safety in the future.

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