Is the Pandemic Affecting the Level of Safety in the Habits of Young Drivers?
by Kyn Armstrong
With the global pandemic persisting and continuing to affect our daily lives, it’s no surprise that its effects have seeped into driving. Although there seem to be fewer people on the road, that doesn’t necessarily mean there are fewer accidents and fatalities.
Recently, a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that there has been an increase in dangerous activities behind the wheel, such as texting while driving, driving under the influence, and overall careless behavior. You’re probably wondering why this is happening and what we can do about it. It’s not like we can take every reckless driver off the road and give them a stern warning; that’s not realistic.
There are ways we can fix this, but first, let’s dive into this study a bit more to understand the breadth of the situation.
Understanding this phenomenon can be confusing at first, so let’s clear that right up. As stated before, there was a reduction in the number of people driving after the pandemic hit, but those drivers were of the older generations, making up 60% of all U.S. drivers. While this reduction occurred, simultaneously, a small percent of individuals who were more likely to engage in dangerous acts while driving increased their driving. Even though the growth is small, it is still harming all drivers.
Again, it might be tough to understand what this has to do with young drivers. If you’re thinking, “That’s not me, though. I don’t drive recklessly. It’s not like I drink and drive. I only use my phone sometimes,” then continue to listen because there are lessons in this study for you to learn too.
Another finding of this study was that the average age of risky drivers who increased their driving was younger than those with safe habits. This brings up an important question. Are young drivers perpetrators, or are they victims?
When the pandemic hit, everything shut down: schools, stores, everything. We’re starting to gain more freedom in this new reality of COVID-19 because of new vaccines, but that doesn’t mean the damage isn’t done. During this period of shutdowns, driving tests and lessons stopped, so there was no opportunity for young people to learn the rights and wrongs of the road.
What are you supposed to do in a situation like this? One might suggest asking your parents to teach you how to drive, but what if you’re away from home in college? What if your parents don’t even know how to drive? What if their habits are safe, either? Without the experts opening their doors for young drivers to learn, young people won’t learn how to drive safely. They might pass that driving test, but it won’t be a guarantee that they’ll retain safe habits after they receive that shiny new license.
It’s no different from when we memorize as much as possible for a test, only to forget it in a week, leaving all of that knowledge behind forever. With this study as evidence of a correlation between the shutdown during the pandemic and reckless driving, we can begin to take this as a reality check and do better.
We’ve seen the problem, the evidence, and the bad news, but let’s move on to how we can do better and hopefully counter this issue. The goal is to correct risky behaviors while driving, but those aren’t easy to break. It’s so easy to pick up your phone while driving that you don’t even think about it. It’s not as easy as giving everyone tips and rules to memorize. No, the key is providing an intrinsic or extrinsic motivation.
Let’s touch on this quickly. Intrinsic motivation is the motivation that derives from your internal thoughts or desires. Extrinsic motivation derives from external factors like rewards or praise. If your goal is to exercise four times a week, intrinsic motivation would be that you would feel better about yourself after each workout. An extrinsic motivation would be rewarding yourself with a fun snack after each workout to ensure that you have something to which you look forward.
Now that we’ve had a little vocabulary lesson, how do you implement that into your life?
Intrinsic motivation can require a bit of self-reflection in this scenario so that you can understand what holds meaning to you. Once you figure that out, you can use that as a reason to engage in safer driving habits. It can be hard, but it serves as a positive long-term solution for a significant problem. Extrinsic motivation is much easier to implement, but eventually, you will have to find an intrinsic motivator to maintain your habits; however, I recommend providing external motivators for yourself to positively impact your habits as soon as possible.
Here are some examples if you find yourself blanking.
When you reach your destination, buy something to reward yourself for engaging in a safe habit. Get ice cream, coffee, or a bag of chips. Give yourself whatever makes you feel happy about completing your goal of driving safely.
Make a pact with a friend, family member, or anyone close to you that you will drive safely. Bet on buying dinner, doing the dishes, or anything that holds some stakes to encourage you to engage in good habits. If you slip up, then own up to it and do better next time to possibly get someone else to do your chores. (Pro tip: you can check what hours you were active on your phone, so there’s no way to cheat yourself out of keeping your promise.)
These days there are apps for everything, including rewarding safe driving habits. This App Saves Lives (TASL) is one notable app that gives you points based on how long you practice safe driving. The app will track whether you use your phone or not, so this is another instance where you can’t cheat yourself. Additionally, you can exchange points for free food, discounts, etc., at participating retailers. If you don’t have faith in holding yourself accountable, the app will do it for you, so you won’t have to worry.
It’s important to understand that the trend of reckless driving is increasing and causing more deaths on the road, and the only way to counter this phenomenon is to promote safe habits. Once you start driving safely, everyone around you will fall in line, and eventually, there will be more safe drivers on the road, making driving a lot more enjoyable for everyone. We don’t have to look at this through a lens of sadness and hopelessness; there is hope: you.