Statement of purpose Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of teen death in the United States. Peer passengers increase risk, in part due to how they draw the teen driver’s attention away from the roadway. The purpose of this study was to examine teens’ attitudes, perceived behavioural control, and norms related to driving inattention and peer passengers.
Methods We conducted 7 focus groups with 30 teens, ages 16–18, licensed for ≤1 year in Pennsylvania. The focus group interview guide and analysis were based on the Theory of Planned Behaviour. We used descriptive content analysis to develop themes. Self-report quantitative data were also collected from participants for descriptive purposes.
Results The sample was 50% male, mean age 17.39 (sd 0.52), mean length of licensure 173.7 days (sd 109.2) and predominately white (90%) and non-Hispanic (97%). Three major themes emerged: 1). Good Passengers and Not so Good Passengers; 2). The Driver is in Control; and 3). Passengers wouldn’t Put Themselves at Risk on Purpose…but Laws Don’t Matter. Teens described how peer passengers can be helpful (e.g. providing directions) and harmful (e.g. loud music). The driver also manages their attention by directing passengers to handle secondary tasks (e.g. GPS). Teens (as passengers) found it more difficult to ask an inattentive driver (e.g. one who is texting) to keep attention on the road. Teens didn’t perceive that passengers purposely divert a drivers’ attention off the road. Passenger restriction laws had little influence on number of peer passengers teens chose to have in the vehicle.
Conclusions Teens describe an awareness of the role of peer passengers in driver inattention and identify ways to manage risks in different situations.
Significance and contribution to the field An understanding of teens’ perceptions of peer passengers can contribute to the development of effective interventions targeting teen driver inattention.
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