Sports Play Beats Age as Indicator of New Drivers’ Ability: Study

February 28, 2018

Novice male teen drivers are better than new male drivers in their 20s and male and female students who play sports are better new drivers than those who do not participate in organized sports. Video game experience, on the other hand, does not have any effect on driving skills.

A study from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) explored the relationship between new drivers’ skills, with driving instructors rating novice drivers on four factors: age, gender, sports participation and video game experience.

The results have prompted the study’s authors to propose that states consider ending mandatory driver’s education for only teens and expanding safety training to new drivers of all ages. “If translated into policy, the findings could improve driver training, ultimately reducing traffic accidents and saving lives,” the authors said.

For the study, 100 novice drivers — each with less than five hours of driving experience before their first driving lesson — participated in a two-hour lesson focused on car control and traffic maneuvers. Students drove on the streets of Los Angeles, ranked as having the worst traffic in the world. The group was evenly split by gender, and the students’ average age was 18.

The instructor ranked each student’s skills on a four-point scale, in which 1 means the student requires far more instruction and practice before taking the state driving test and 4 indicates the instructor believes the student is prepared to pass the test.

The researchers then analyzed the results and found:

  • Age: Among males, the older the student, the worse his driving skills score. Male teens scored 36 percent higher on driving skills than men in their 20s. The same pattern did not hold true for women.
  • Gender: Students were asked to rate their confidence in their own driving skills. Although female students on average were less confident than their male counterparts, men and women received almost the same average score from driving instructors.
  • Sports participation: A history of playing any kind of organized sport was linked to better driving skills among both men and women. Men and women who played sports scored 2.66 and 2.43, respectively, while men and women who had not played organized sports had average scores of 1.94 and 1.60. The authors say that previous studies have shown that participating in organized sports improves spatial perception.
  • Video game experience: Playing video games showed no relationship to driving abilities. The authors say they expected the opposite because earlier research has shown that playing action video games improves spatial cognition.

Based on the results of the current study, the authors hypothesize that the “relatively high accident rate of younger drivers (especially male drivers) is most likely due to inattention to safety considerations rather than lack of technical driving ability.”

To obtain a driver’s license in the U.S., every person under age 18 must pay for a formal driver’s education class with a minimum of six hours of driving instruction on the road. In California, teens must also wait six months after earning a learner’s permit before taking the state’s department of motor vehicles driving test. The authors propose that the DMV in California and other states consider expanding safety training to all new drivers of all ages.

For their next study, the researchers intend to analyze whether drivers’ gender, age and socioeconomic status (which they would estimate based on the driver’s ZIP code) relate to whether candidates pass or fail their driving tests.

The study’s authors are Nancy Wayne, UCLA associate vice chancellor for research and a professor of physiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and Gregory Miller, an instructor at Westwood Driving School.

The findings were published in the online edition of the journal PLOS One.

Source: UCLA

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