Why are young people at risk? First of all there are many risk factors for people of any age. The specific reasons why young people have a higher risk of being involved in a road traffic crash are highly complex.
Young people are generally inexperienced road users. As with adolescent pedestrians or cyclists, the increased risk of a crash among young drivers can be mainly due to their inexperience on the roads. They may, for example, be less able to accurately perceive hazards, control the vehicle and make appropriate decisions on the road. Also social norms, including peer influence and the rebellion in youth culture can affect the behavior while acting on the road. For many young people, their friends (peers) are the most important people in their lives and are often also their primary source of behavioral norms. Teenagers can be led by what is considered “cool”, not necessarily what is safe. Peer pressure can mean that young people are more likely to behave in a risky manner on the road, both as novice drivers or riders, and as pedestrians.
Furthermore recent research indicates that the parts of the brain responsible for decision making may be still under development until well after the teenage years, also impacting on the behavior on the road. These reasons on top of the use of alcohol and/or drugs in traffic, not using a seatbelt or wearing a helmet, driving at high speed make young people vulnerable. In short, young peoples high risk levels are a product of both who they are and the environment in which they exist.
Among drivers particularly young males are at risk. They are almost three times as likely to be killed as their female counterparts. Young males take more risks, for example young men likely to drive at excessive or inappropriate speeds, are less likely to wear their helmets and not using seatbelts. Furthermore different testosterone levels partially explain the different behavior between young men and women.
What can be done?
Understanding the risks faced by young road users is important in order to plan appropriate programmes to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries among young people. Most of the interventions that reduce the risk of road traffic injuries among the general population will also reduce the occurrence among youth. In addition, experience from high-income countries shows that sustained efforts to implement interventions targeted specifically at young adults can lead to great success in reducing the numbers of deaths and injuries among young people.
In conclusion young people are difficult to reach. Parents will have less influence on them and authorities like the police are often involved when it is already too late. To connect with young people you have to speak their 'language' but remain credible and authentic. Therefore YOURS believes that it is young people themselves who should talk with their peers and get the right message across. Many examples of peer-to-peer communication have been set by youth-led NGO's and are part of the YOURS network.
Governments, private sector and media should help young people by providing resources, help developing their skills and give media attention to their efforts.