Identifying Subtypes of Young Novice Drivers: Implications for matching training to the needs of the driver

Monash University Accident Research Centre – Report #142 - 1998

Authors: H. Deery, N. Kowadlo, T. Westphal-Wedding & B. Fildes

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Abstract:

Although there is a large amount of literature on the young novice driver problem, traditional approaches to driver training have proven to be ineffective. More recently, several techniques for training critical driving skills have shown a great deal of promise. Furthermore, it is argued that young novice drivers are not a homogenous group and that training might be most effective when tailored to the needs of specific driver subtypes. Two separate but related studies are reported.

The aim of Study 1 was to obtain empirical support for the presence of driver subtypes in the young novice driver population. One hundred and ninety eight participants (55% male) aged 16 to 19 were recruited from driver licensing offices in metropolitan Melbourne. They completed an extensive self-report questionnaire. Five novice driver subtypes were identified through a cluster analysis of personality and driving-related measures. Two relatively high risk or deviant subtypes emerged (Clusters 1 and 5), characterised by high levels of driving-related aggression, competitive speed, driving to reduce tension, sensation seeking, assaultiveness and hostility. Individuals in one of those subtypes (Cluster 5) also reported low levels of emotional adjustment and high levels of depression, resentfulness and irritability. Significant differences between the subtypes were also found on several demographic, attitude and behavioural measures, including traffic accident record.

The aim of Study 2 was to examine whether or not the young novice driver subtypes differed in terms of their simulated driving performance. A subset of participants from Study 1 drove several scenarios in a driving simulator. Differences were observed in the way that the novice driver subtypes responded both to an emergency situation and to several potential traffic hazards in the simulator. Differences were also evident in the proficiency with which they could control their attention among concurrent tasks while driving. Most of the statistically significant differences were related to skill decrements for the two highest risk novice driver subtypes (Clusters 1 and 5).

Several training techniques are described that seem to be particularly appropriate for the highest risk young novice driver subtypes (Clusters 1 and 5). Recommendations are also made for further research and development.

Executive Summary

Background

Young novice drivers are over-represented in road accidents. There is a large amount of literature that has increased our understanding of the factors that contribute to this problem. This understanding has not, however, been translated into the development of effective driver training programs. In fact, there is very little empirical support for the effectiveness of "traditional" forms of driver training, such as behind the wheel instruction, classroom education and skid training. There are probably two main reasons for this lack of success.

First, driver training programs have not focussed on those skills and behaviours that are important in crash causation. For example, failure to detect traffic hazards and the ability to divide and switch attention have been identified as sources of individual differences in road accidents. They have also been identified as a significant problem for young drivers, but they have traditionally received very little attention in driver training. More recently, however, researchers have begun to explore methods for training these skills in novice drivers. Although these methods are yet to be evaluated in the real world, the results of laboratory-based research indicates that they offer a great deal of promise as a means of enhancing the safety of young novice drivers.

Second, at least some groups of young novice drivers are not motivated to drive safely and apply their skills on the road. In other words, young novice drivers are probably not a homogenous group and training and other countermeasures might be most effective when tailored to the needs of specific driver subtypes. Indeed, there is some evidence to support the effectiveness of matching training or interventions to population subtypes in other areas of road safety, such as drink-driving, and in various educational and clinical settings.

The general aim of this research was to examine the factors that contribute to safe driving among subtypes of young novice drivers, with implications for matching training to the needs of the driver. Two separate but related studies are reported.

Summary of Research Findings

The aim of Study 1 was to obtain empirical support for the presence of driver subtypes in the young novice driver population. One hundred and ninety eight participants (55% male) aged 16 to 19 years were recruited from three driver licensing offices in metropolitan Melbourne. They completed an extensive self-report questionnaire. Five novice driver subtypes were identified through a cluster analysis of driving-related attitudes and behaviours, general personality traits, and hostility and aggression. Two relatively high risk or deviant subtypes emerged (Clusters 1 and 5), characterised by high levels of driving related aggression, competitive speed, driving to reduce tension, sensation seeking, assaultiveness and hostility. Individuals in one of those subtypes (Cluster 5) also reported low levels of emotional adjustment and high levels of depression, resentfulness and irritability. In order to validate the cluster solution, the subtypes were compared on a number of measures not used in the cluster analysis. Significant differences were found between the young novice driver subtypes on several demographic, attitude and behavioural measures, including self-reported driving style and traffic accident record.

The aim of Study 2 was to examine whether or not the young novice driver subtypes identified in Study 1 differed in terms of their performance in a driving simulator. A subset of participants from Study 1 drove several scenarios in a mid-range driving simulator. The scenarios were designed to assess: (a) aspects of general driving skill (e.g. variability in lateral position) and driving style (e.g. speed choice), (b) the ability to control attention between competing tasks in high workload situations, (c) performance around potential traffic hazards, and (d) performance during an emergency situation requiring evasive braking and steering.

The results of Study 2 indicated that the novice driver subtypes, identified on the basis of differential levels of driving-related attitudes and behaviours, general personality traits, and hostility and aggression, also differed in terms of their driving performance. Differences were observed in the way that the novice driver subtypes responded both to an emergency situation and to several potential traffic hazards in the simulator. Differences were also evident in the proficiency with which they could control their attention among competing tasks while driving in high workload situations. Most of the statistically significant differences in driving performance were related to skill decrements for the two most deviant or highest risk novice driver subtypes (Clusters 1 and 5). The individuals in Cluster 1 travelled the fastest around some potential traffic hazards and did not moderate their driving speed around others. Those in Cluster 5 were the least safe responding to an emergency situation and had difficulty controlling their attention between competing tasks while driving. They were also the least cautious around a potential traffic hazard that was particularly notable for the need to anticipate a sequence of gradually unfolding events.

Implications for Driver Training

The results of this research suggest that the approach of identifying and matching subtypes of young novice drivers to training or education programs appears promising. For example, the novice drivers in the two highest risk or most deviant subtypes (Clusters 1 and 5) seem to have problems with driving-related aggression and competitive speed, as well as personality and emotional functioning problems, such as irritability and depression. Programs to address these problems might promote a more moderate driving style among those drivers.

The safety of the novice drivers in Clusters 1 and 5 could also be increased by training that enhances their precautionary behaviour around potential traffic hazards. Those in Cluster 5 might also benefit from training designed to improve their ability to control their attention among competing sources of information. Several approaches to training these skills have recently shown a great deal of promise and would seem to be appropriate for novice drivers generally and the highest risk driver subtypes (Clusters 1 and 5) particularly.

In terms of risk perception, personal computer-based instruction on critical risk perception skills, combined with the opportunity to practice and obtain feedback on those skills, have been effective in enhancing the safety of novice drivers around traffic hazards in a driving simulator (Regan, Deery & Triggs, 1998b). Training that includes predicting what might happen in unfolding events, using video of actual traffic hazards, has also enhanced the risk perception skills of novice drivers (McKenna & Crick, 1995) and would appear to be particularly appropriate for the novice drivers in Cluster 5.

The individuals in Cluster 5 would also benefit from training to improve their attentional control. Recent driving simulator research at the Monash University Accident Research Centre (Regan, Deery & Triggs, 1998a) has shown that the attentional control skills of novice drivers can be enhanced using a training technique called Variable Priority Training (VPT). With VPT, participants perform two or more tasks concurrently. They are instructed to systematically vary the relative amount of attention that they give to each task across training trials. The research at MUARC has shown that, in addition to attentional control, the ability to detect, perceive and respond safely to potential traffic hazards can be enhanced with VPT.

Several recommendations are made for further research and development. These include developing and validating a short screening instrument for identifying high risk driver subtypes, developing incentive schemes for young novice drivers to undertake tailored training programs, and empirical evaluations of the effectiveness of matching training to the needs of the driver.

Sponsoring Organisation:  NRMA Ltd.