Perception of the Risk of an Accident by Young and Older Drivers

Accid Anal Prev. 1986 Aug;18(4):289-98. doi: 10.1016/0001-4575(86)90043-6.


Young drivers are significantly overrepresented among all drivers involved in traffic accidents and fatalities. Excessive risk taking by young drivers appears to be largely responsible for this disproportionate involvement. This excessive risk taking could be due to being more willing to take risks than older drivers are, failing to perceive hazardous situations as being as dangerous as older drivers do or both causes. This paper reports the results of a study which attempted to determine whether misperception of risk could be an explanation for the high rates of traffic accidents among youth by testing whether young drivers perceive driving to be less hazardous than do older drivers. Three different methods of estimating the risk of accident involvement were used to compare risk estimates of young and older drivers. The methods included general questions about accident involvement, rating the riskiness of ten specific driving situations illustrated in still photographs, and rating the riskiness of fifteen videotaped driving situations. Young drivers perceived their own chances of an accident to be significantly lower than those of both their peers and older male drivers, while older male drivers saw their chances of accident involvement as comparable to those of their male peers and less than those of young male drivers. These findings lend support to the thesis that young male drivers are overrepresented in traffic accidents at least in part because they fail to perceive specific driving situations as being as risky as older drivers perceive them.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic*
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Attitude
  • Automobile Driving
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception*
  • Risk
  • Risk-Taking