Jean-Pascal Assailly speaks about youth and road safety
Jean-Pascal Assailly is a psychologist and researcher at IFSTTAR, a specialist in young people’s risky behaviour. He has contributed to the creation of the Your Ideas Your Initiatives’ educational material. Here he answers our questions about youth and road safety:
The over-risk of young people is observed in all industrialized motorized countries. What is intrinsically linked to this period of life and transcends cultural differences?
The two factors classically invoked are age (the psychological characteristics of adolescence and post-adolescence) and inexperience (young people have generally had their license for a short time). Today, it is agreed that age is the most important factor (for example, there will be a lower risk for an inexperienced driver aged 30 or 40).
Whatever the respective influences of age and inexperience, the result of the interaction is the same in all countries, a dangerous driving style: high speeds, too short intervals between vehicles, attention that is too focused on the immediate environment of the vehicle, dangerous overtaking, poor management of the problem of alcohol and illicit drugs, lack of planning of evenings and return journeys, etc. In short, as we see, the risk factors are numerous...
In fact, detailed accident studies have identified a frequent pattern in the fatal accidents of young drivers, which is often the same in many countries: during the night from Saturday to Sunday, between 1 and 6 am, returning from a weekend outing (discotheques, pubs, parties, balls, evenings with friends, etc.), accidents with only one vehicle involved, loss of control in a bend, frontal or lateral collision with a fixed obstacle. For the young people involved, there are frequently five main risk factors:
- alcohol (currently present and since 2000 in about 30% of fatal accidents, in both young people and adults); compared to the 70s and 80s where it was associated in 40 to 50% of cases, the presence of alcohol in the fatal accident decreased, but it remains a very important factor of the accident, besides the association of alcohol with all types of weekend outings mentioned above ... This risk factor is even more present among motorized 2-wheel’s drivers; it concerns mainly young men.
- illicit drugs, mainly cannabis; unlike alcohol, this risk factor is predictably more age-related and more characteristic of the accidents of young users. While cannabis is the most commonly detected illegal drug on the road, this reflects the fact that cannabis users far outnumber those who use heroin, cocaine, amphetamines or L.S.D.; another reason probably lies in the fact that, like alcohol, cannabis is more associated with driving episodes than so-called "hard" drugs. Lastly, we must not forget to mention the problem of polyconsumption: consumption of alcohol and cannabis are often associated, with effects of mutual potentiation; thus, half of the drivers (or pedestrians) tested positive for narcotic drugs also consumed alcohol.
- tiredness; even without a major psychotropic remedy, a youth who has spent the night dancing can simply be tired and fall asleep at the wheel. In addition, fatigue is a common health problem in this population: "sleep" deprivation during exams for young students, work-leisure balance for young workers.
- over-occupation of vehicles; a psycho-social aspect very characteristic of the lifestyles of the 15-24 years old is the fact of going out in a group; if couples exist, they are still inserted in a band. It is common to read on Monday morning in the regional press "5 young people killed when returning from discotheques" ... The presence of passengers acts as a double risk factor: a quantitative factor (the fatal accidents of young people can cause 5 victims at the same time; after marriage, a fatal accident will lead to 2 fatalities...); a qualitative factor: passengers can distract the driver, or even push him to take risks (car journeys should not be conceived as neutral, functional moments: they are part of the party; in the car, we talk, we laugh, we sing, we drink, we smoke ...).
-speed; this last factor is not peculiar to the accidents of young people, since it is a general factor of road risk and a general factor of seriousness (in the event of shock, the severity of the injuries always increases proportionally with the speed involved). We can simply say that in the same situation, if the car of a drunk young driver bringing four passengers "hit" a tree at 50 km / h. instead of 100 km / h. or more (and if the passengers were belted in the back seats as well as in the front ...), this accident would produce five light wounded and not five dead ...
Two main lessons can be drawn from the analysis of these scenarios of fatal accidents of young people:
1) Accidents are not only a problem of road safety in the strict sense of the word, of driving, of performance; it is a problem of life in the broadest sense: the relation to psychotropic substances, to danger, to the group, the planning of evenings, etc. The young person capable of killing himself in a bend knows just as well as the next man how to make the manoeuvre. It is not a question of transmitting a technical know-how to him but of teaching him how to better manage his lifestyle, give him decision-making tools to implement alternative behaviours to dangerous behaviour.
2) we can clearly see the gap between the situation of the initial training, the 20 hours spent at the driving school, and the accident situation; during the training, the young person learns how to drive in day time, during the week, in the congested roads of the cities, he/she is sober, there is only one person in the car, the instructor, etc. In short, the learning situation and the dangerous situation are totally opposed...
Therefore, it is necessary to find other approaches to protect young people, before and after the driving test.
How to build an action plan that will be effective in combating the different processes involved in risky behaviour?
An examination of international literature (see in particular Saunders & Miller, 2009) on educational actions in road safety allows us to identify good practices, among others:
- The most effective teaching methods are those that promote the active participation of pupils (role plays, simulations, etc.) and interactivity with adults (discussion).
- The best results are obtained by interventions that improve students' psychosocial skills such as self-esteem, assertiveness or resistance to peer pressure (Griffin, Botvin, & Nichols, 2004).
- The quality of the school atmosphere plays a role beyond the training of teachers on any programme: provision of new activities at school, tutoring for students, involvement of health services and parents…
All these elements are strongly driven by the Your Ideas Your Initiatives programme. The approach is tailored to the intended audience and leads to concrete results. In this sense, it provides an essential complement to the initial training of young drivers.