Anxiety is linked with risky driving behavior among teenagers, according to a new Australian study.

Published in Injury Prevention, Bridie Scott-Parker, of Queensland University of Technology's Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety, and other researchers hypothesized that teen stress levels could predict the likelihood of risky driving behavior among the same age group despite demographic and socioeconomic differences.

The scientists noted that previous research has shown an association between adolescent depression and anxiety and dangerous behaviors such as smoking cigarettes, drinking excessively, and engaging in unprotected sex.

Car Accidents Involving Teens Prove to Be the Most Fatal

Equally important is the prevalence of depression among teens at 24%, with one in ten being depressed at any given time. Also, a 2008 review of accidents in the same Australian city revealed that though young adults comprised 13% of drivers, they accounted for 22.3% of crash fatalities. Such alarming data about teens and young adults prompted the authors to investigate the correlation between that group's stress levels and their driving habits.

Number of Car Accidents Attributed to Anxious and Depressed Teens

The researchers conducted an online survey of 761 young drivers, ages 17-25 from Queensland, Australia. Participants were asked to assess their driving behaviors and to describe their emotional experiences based on the Kessler's Psychological Distress Scale, known as K10. The scale aligns with DSM-IV, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Higher scores on the K10 correspond to greater probability of meeting criteria for non-specific psychological distress diagnoses on the DSM.

The young adult drivers self-reported their risky driving behaviors using the Behavior of Young Novice Drivers Scale. As with the K10, higher scores on this test also represent higher levels of risky driving behavior.

Based on a review of the self-reported surveys, Scott-Parker found that 8.5% of the risky driving behavior could be explained by the presence of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, with stressed teens also reporting more erratic driving styles. The cross-sectional study controlled for gender, age, educational level and employment status.

The strongest link was found among young, female drivers, with 9.5% of poor driving behaviors linked to psychological distress among that group alone.

Scott-Parker and her colleagues recommended screening for psychological distress among young drivers to help determine their potential for risky driving behaviors. They suggested that such distress might also be useful in assessing the likelihood of other dangerous adolescent activities among teens experiencing higher levels of depression and anxiety.

The findings are supported by the application of reliable surveys to a reasonably large study sample, and assessment of drivers' immediate past experiences. However, the scientists recognize the study's limitations in relying on self-reported data with an over-representation of females, and a non-random sampling.

Though their results demonstrated a link between the two factors tested, future investigation was urged to further understanding of the relationship between driving behaviors and the mental-health status of young adults.

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