Social Norms and Teenage Driver Distraction

Author(s): Maryam Merrikhpour, Birsen Donmez
Student Paper Competition: Honourable Mention

Slidedeck Presentation:

7B - Merrikhpour


Background/Context: Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers, with distraction as an important risk factor. Distracted driving behaviours can be influenced by actions of and beliefs about others, i.e., social norms. Two important social referents for teenagers are parents and peers. Understanding parents' and peers' influences on driver distraction among teenagers may help to develop effective solutions to mitigate their distraction.

Aims/Objectives: A survey is conducted to investigate how teenagers' distraction engagement is influenced by descriptive (what others do) and injunctive (others' approval) norms of their parents and peers. This paper reports preliminary findings from data collected so far.

Methods/Target Group: Data were collected from a sample of 55 teen-parent dyads within the province of Ontario who completed an online survey independently from each other. The teens answered questions on demographics, frequency of engagement in distractions for themselves and for their parents and peers (perceived descriptive norms), and their parents' and peers' approval of their distraction engagement (perceived injunctive norms). The parents answered questions on demographics, their frequency of engagement in distractions (actual descriptive norms), their approval of their teens' distraction engagement (actual injunctive norms), as well as their perception of how often their teens engage in distraction. Correlation and linear regression analyses were used to investigate the effects of social norms on teens' self-reported frequency of distraction engagement.

Results/Activities: Actual and perceived norms were positively correlated: teens' perception of their parents' distraction engagement and approval were positively correlated with their parents' self-reported distraction engagement and approval, respectively. As for the relation between perceived norms and the teens' self-reported distraction engagement, a positive correlation was found between the self-reported distraction engagement of female teenagers and their perceived descriptive and injunctive norms of their mother and peers. The same result was found for male teenagers and their father and peers. Linear regression analysis revealed that teens perceived their peers to engage in distractions more frequently than themselves. Further, separate models for parents' and peers' norms revealed that teens' engagement in distraction was influenced by perceived descriptive norms, with peer effect explaining more variance than parental effect. Perceived injunctive norms for peers had an effect only for male teenagers.

Discussion/Deliverables: Perceptions of parents' and peers' distraction engagement was predictive of teens' self-reported engagement in distractions. This finding is consistent with the social norms theory and highlights the important role of what peers and parents do in shaping teenagers' driving behaviours. In a regression analysis, teens' self-reported distraction engagement was found to be influenced by their perceived approval from their peers, but not from their parents, suggesting that peers' approval may be a stronger determinant in shaping teenagers' distracted driving behaviours than parents' approval. Alternatively, this finding may be due to the small sample size used in this paper.

Conclusions: The observed normative influences on distracted driving behaviours among teenagers have potential implications for effective interventions to mitigate driver distraction. Further study of social norms, especially peers' self-reported norms, is required. In addition, future research should identify and examine factors such as perceived risk that may moderate the influences of social norms on distraction.