A recent survey of drivers in the UK suggests that nearly half think that driving games are giving young drivers or soon-to-be drivers the wrong impression about driving.
The belief seems to be based on the fact that driving games promote speed over safety, and that bad or dangerous driving is often made to look cool.
The study was conducted by Young Driver (the UK’s largest provider of pre-17 driver training), asking 1,000 motorists what impact they thought computer games, films and TV programs had on teens.
The responses showed that 47% believe driving games on consoles and mobile devices give youngsters the wrong impression of driving, 40% said they felt video games made bad driving look cool, with 33% saying films and TV shows had the same effect, and 29% said driving attitudes are negatively influenced by films such as The Fast and the Furious. Further, 39% said they felt films and TV shows don’t effectively convey the consequences of driving dangerously or too fast.
“It’s concerning if new drivers are being influenced by what they see on screens to believe reckless driving is cool and without consequence, given their brains may not see risk in the same way an older driver would,” says Sue Waterfield, head of marketing at Young Driver. “That’s why it’s so important that young people are taught from an early age what a responsibility driving is, and how to do it safely. If they come to it for the first time aged 17, and they’ve been immersed in footage of sports cars doing impossible stunts, of course it’s going to skew their concept of driving.”
The study also included drivers who had recently passed their driving test (age 18-24), 58% of whom said driving on screens is portrayed as being much easier than it really is. However, 11% or parents considered video games a safe way for youngsters to drive recklessly without actually inflicting any damage. Still, 22% of 18-24s admitted they had seen a car stunt on screen and thought about how great it would be to give a try, as did 9% of more mature drivers.
“Teenage brains are still developing and that continues well into the 20s. The last area to develop is the prefrontal cortex, which is the brain’s ‘control centre’, necessary for tasks such as self-control, decision-making, risk analysis and saying no,” says adolescent development specialist Nicola Morgan, who has been working with Young Driver to help better understand the teen mindset. “So, at 17 years old, teens do not generally have a fully developed control centre to help them make good decisions and control their emotional urges, including risk-taking. If they have a risk-taking mindset, they may put thrill before safety; and even if they don’t mean to, they may be more driven by excitement than reason.”
Research shows that those who have early driving education are half as likely to crash within the first six months of passing their driving test (one in five drivers typically crash in those first few months).
“If, from as young as 10, they’re able to have a go at driving a car in a safe and controlled environment, and are aware of what is involved, it gives them that much needed perspective ahead of taking to the road,” said Waterfield.
It’s that kind of thinking that lead to the creation of kartSTART presented by Toyota, a cross-Canada driver education program that gives children as young as 10 a driving experience in a vehicle that fits them — go karts. The course includes interactive safety briefing, racing safety equipment, and instructor-lead track sessions.
“We don't know the effects that games like GTA and Need for Speed have on teen attitudes to road safety simply because the research hasn’t been done yet,” said driving expert Quentin Willson, presenter of Britain’s Worst Driver and an original co-host of Top Gear. “But at Young Driver we see every day that if you catch pre-teen kids who haven’t yet been corroded by the glorification of bad driving in films, on TV and through gaming, they’re much more receptive to road safety messages.”