Are Teens with Mental Health Issues Worse Drivers?

A new study suggests that there may be a link between young people who exhibit risky behavior while driving and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Additionally, research shows that psychological distress may precipitate these risky driving behaviors. Australian researchers looked at two well-established facts for the basis of their study. One, younger drivers are more likely to be involved in accidents, particularly those resulting in death, than their older counterparts. Second, mental stress and psychological impairment have been shown to lead to risk taking in younger people, including alcohol and drug abuse and promiscuity. The study, led by Birdie Scott-Parker, from Queensland University of Technology’s Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety, looked at answers to a questionnaire designed to determine if risky driving behavior, such as driving without a safety restraint, driving while texting or speeding, was related to psychological well-being. The researchers compiled data from 761 questionnaires filled out by drivers between the ages of 17 and 25. Each driver had a valid license that allowed them to drive without supervision.

The results showed that psychological impairment, stress or illness was directly related to risky driving in more than 8% of those questioned. However, there was a variance between men and women respondents. "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," Scott-Parker said.

The researchers believe that this information could potentially help identify adolescents at risk for accidents due to psychological health. Scott Parker said, “Young people presenting to medical and mental health professionals could be screened for current psychological distress, particularly if they have incurred injury through risky behavior.” She added, "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."

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • I.F. Colt

    I.F. Colt

    May 23rd, 2011 at 11:53 PM

    “One, younger drivers are more likely to be involved in accidents, particularly those resulting in death, than their older counterparts.”

    No surprise there. If they are younger they simply don’t have the driving experience under their belt yet to be that good at it.

    New drivers are bad at judging different driving conditions too. If they pass their test in summer and have never driven in icy conditions, that winter’s going to be a dangerous one for them because of both their lack of experience and lack of understanding of the difference between summer and winter driving needs.

  • lanny


    May 24th, 2011 at 3:59 AM

    it will not be right to generalize…while mental health issues may have an effect on a person’s mental state,so can a bad mood…! What would you rather encounter- someone with a mild mental issue that does not impair a person’s driving or a drunk driver the next time you’re on the road…?!

  • brent


    May 24th, 2011 at 12:28 PM

    Teens are big risk takers to begin with, and add to that the instability that mental illness can bring with it then you have a real recipe for disaster on the roads. That is a scary situation for all of us to ponder.

  • Sara B

    Sara B

    May 25th, 2011 at 4:45 AM

    The bad thing is that even if you target those who are most at risk of causing accidents when they drive, does not necessarily mean that you will be able to keeep them off the roads and out from behind the wheel. Look at DUI offenders. Just because we take away their license to drive somehow they still manage to find the keys and continue to do it time and again.

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