Road Deaths and Teenage Girls: Who Cares? Guest blog by Professor Peter RussellRoad Deaths and Teenage Girls: Who Cares?
I want you all to look at a more obscure, but incredibly important, aspect of Road Safety that has more to do with passengers than drivers. Initially it appears to be a surprising and awful statistic that young girls between the ages of twelve and sixteen are proportionately more involved in road crashes and road deaths than boys of the same age.
However, even the most cursory research will give clues to the reasons why this happens. Girls of this age group naturally go through a whole range of emotional and physical changes. They progress through the challenges of puberty and menarche; and, with the freedom that secondary education brings, find themselves overwhelmed with options to break free from parental control. The temptations on offer include smoking, shoplifting, alco-pops, soft and hard drugs, legal-highs, under-age sex, texting, sexting and riding in fast cars.
The only links are risk and the chance to cock a snook at society in general, and their parents in particular! When you ask teenage girls about ‘Personal RISK’ you will find many answers. They may not recognise the proportions of the risk, but when presented with a statement that says ‘smoking gives you cancer’. They often reply that just one cigarette cannot possibly kill you immediately and they don’t really care if they die of cancer when they get old. The unusual concept here though is that ‘old’ for a fourteen year-old is perhaps twenty-one; and certainly no more than twenty-five.
The term ‘teenage girls’ can almost be divided into two disparate extremes: those who are still comfortably under the control of their parents or guardians; and those who desperately crave the ability to shock. Regrettably, teaching them about risk, even the risk of death or serious injury, has little effect. They buy cigarette packets which are emboldened with the words ‘smoking kills’. They go shoplifting en-masse; quite often as a means of passing a peer group test. They all know other girls who have tried under-age sex and not all of them have become pregnant; and, of course, most kind of illegal drugs are readily available in almost every school playground.
So it is with riding in stolen cars or with unsafe drivers. Unlicensed drivers who steal cars know they can get away with it, without being caught, most of the time, and they know too that if (or even when) they are caught the punishment is laughable. At least it seems laughable to their friends. Even the thought of attending a court carries no great stigma. And there is nothing quite like the ‘buzz’ of driving, or being a passenger in, a car at high-speed deliberately putting their lives at risk. For impressionable young girls, sitting with an older boyfriend behind the wheel it is so easy forget or ignore a lifetime’s warnings from mums and dads. Life is fun! Isn’t it? Is there anything that parents and teachers can do?
Many Graduate Driving Instructors, who form the highest proportion of Members of I.D.E.R., have studied the problems associated with teenage girls being proportionately more involved in car crash injuries and deaths than boys of the same age. We looked at the reasons and it seems that a normal ‘educational’ approach about the risk has little or no effect. “Coming for a ride? ” holds no more fear for many teenagers than popping a pill, or getting drunk and being incapable. After all what is incapable? It is only another sensation. And you need as many sensations as you can before you get old, or even reach twenty- one. So if young girls discuss and then discard the risk as not worth worrying about, what Educational roles remain?
Shock videos in road safety television adverts, detailing the gruesome injuries and the risk of death obviously don’t work. It is easy to dis-associate yourself from unwelcome adverts. If this were not true cigarette sales amongst the young would be nil. And so would the deaths of passengers in stolen cars or those badly driven by inexperienced drivers. It is apparent that peer group pressure is one of the strongest factors that govern the lives of teenage girls. So much of everything they do and wear is the subject of what effect this will have on ‘authority’. And this is where traditional Educational approaches to changing teenagers’ behaviour fail.
Traditionally young girls prefer to seek boy friends from an age group about three to five years older than themselves. There are a number of reasons for this. Fourteen year old boys are not usually emotionally ready for relationships with girls. And when they discover this interest they find that the girls of their own age are already interested in boys who are older. Therefore they have more success with younger girls. So we have a self-perpetuating system.
There is a strong school of thought that argues that when relationships are based on couples of similar age, the female is more dominant and the male less likely to take risks. But where the boy is older the girl is happy to go along for the ride – as it were. And this is how they live – and die. Traditional lectures, mentoring and discussions on road safety, risk and changing driver behaviour do not succeed; but there may be an alternative ‘educational’ method that may work. Throughout this summer I have been involved in an International ‘Expert Think- Tank’ discussing how these unnecessary deaths and injuries can be reduced. My own view is that learning – change of behaviour – has more chance of success when personal involvement is required.. I wonder whether it would be possible to create a survey which invites girls to put their own personal ‘wish- list’ of risks into proportion. This may be too drastic for some teachers and road safety specialists who just say ‘avoid all risk’ and leave it at that. I feel that if risks could be put into context, the more responsible youngsters might decide to miss out the risks that have more immediate chances of happening. What do you think?
What can you, as Graduate Driving Instructors, do to reduce the absurd road safety statistic that means more girls in the 12-16 year-old group will be killed or seriously injured than boys of the same age. One obvious reason is that when youngsters steal cars for what they call ‘joy-riding’ and what others call car theft, the boys tend to do the driving and are marginally safer behind a steering wheel airbag than their unbelted passengers, especially those in the rear seats.
Most often the passengers tend to be girls. When crashes inevitably occur the passengers are more likely to be killed by being thrown out of bursting doors or through the windscreens than the drivers. That is the challenge; the problem is how to educate, inform, train, or bring home, the risk factors to those involved. Those who want to put the task onto teachers are dodging the real issue. The girls who are usually involved are not those who respond well in schools.
Road Safety officers would probably never touch first base with them either. However this does not mean that efforts must rest solely on the parents, although these are the ones with the greatest interest in cutting down deaths. One suggestion which I favour is to invite youngsters to discover their own views on their own personal risk, perhaps by making comparisons of various risk factors. They could be invited to compare the likelihood of dying or serious injury as a result of smoking, of taking drugs or of driving in un-safe or dangerous situations. If this is a viable method then perhaps the best way to get the message through is by using the pages of girls’ magazines, or feeding life-like story lines into some of today’s favourite television soaps.
Once upon a time most books and television stories aimed at impressionable audiences always emphasised that bad actions eventually resulted in bad reactions. If people stole cars they crashed them and died. Neither ‘Noddy’ nor ‘Mr Toad’ was ever allowed to benefit from dangerous driving. These days when youngsters steal cars in soap stories; car thieves escape punishment, either judicial or moral; and carry on as before. Even in radio programmes such as the Archers they still allow their young roughnecks to be glorified.
Their victims forgive them, in spite of fears of living with the consequences after leg amputation, etc; the culprits never change their attitudes and later on they buy cars without any worries about the problems that real people have getting satisfactory and affordable insurance cover. The reasons we have spent twelve whole months looking at this problem, before returning to our traditional themes of helping those who wish to become better Professional Driver Trainers is that we are all personally involved in finding solutions. Solutions have been offered that have baffled road safety experts and will still continue to do so – perhaps forever.
We have promoted this challenge today, in the hope that some of our readers will recognise the opportunities of reducing teenage road deaths, both boys and girls, within their own family circles and they can find solutions at their own level of this national problem.