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Date: 17 May 2011 

Study links anxiety and depression to risk taking in young drivers

Young drivers who experience anxiety and depression are more likely to take risks on the road, according to a new study by Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

The results of the study led by Bridie Scott-Parker, from QUT's Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety - Queensland (CARRS-Q), have been published in the international journal Injury Prevention today.

Mrs Scott-Parker said the study of more than 760 young drivers, who were on their provisional licence, found anxiety and depression accounted for 8.5 per cent of the risky driving behaviour reported by these young adults.

"The association was greater in women than in men, with 9.5 per cent being explained by psychological distress in women compared with 6.7 per cent in men," Mrs Scott-Parker said.

"We already know that psychological distress, such as anxiety and depression, has been linked to risky behaviour in adolescents including unprotected sex, smoking and high alcohol consumption.

"What this study sought to do was look at whether or not psychological distress could also be linked to risky driving behaviours in young people, such as speeding, not wearing a seat belt and using a mobile phone while at the wheel."

Mrs Scott-Parker said the research could be used to identify young drivers most at risk of psychological distress and therefore a greater crash risk on the road through risky driving.

"Young people presenting to medical and mental health professionals could be screened for current psychological distress particularly if they have incurred injury through risky behaviour," she said.

"These drivers could be targeted with specific road safety countermeasures and efforts made to improve their mental wellbeing by monitoring them for signs of depression and anxiety."

Mrs Scott-Parker said up until now the relationship between novice risky driving behaviour and psychological distress had not been clearly identified or quantified.

"Identifying at risk individuals is vital," she said.

"Once identified, interventions could be tailored to target particular groups of at-risk drivers and also from a mental health perspective this may result in improved well-being for the adolescent young driver," she said.

CARRS-Q is a member of QUT's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation.

To view the paper in full visit http://press.psprings.co.uk/ip/may/ip31328.pdf

Media contacts:
Sandra Hutchinson, QUT media officer, 07 3138 2999 or s3.hutchinson@qut.edu.au
Ian Eckersley, QUT media manager, 07 3138 2361 or ian.eckersley@qut.edu.au