Potential interventions to prevent youthful driving behavior that may lead to crashes can target the driving behavior directly, or target one or more of the factors that influence the driving behavior. Some of these factors lend themselves to being changed more than others that should not be the target of interventions. The factors that cannot be changed can be used, however, to guide and inform interventions to prevent youthful risky driving.
Driving behavior that is unsafe can be directly targeted by interventions through establishing and implementing policy. After legislation is passed, and laws implemented, however, the laws must be enforced to affect behavior. Enforcement should be certain, not allowing unsafe behavior to go unchecked, and it should be swift, not allowing delays to dilute the effect on subsequent behavior. Enforcement should also be consistent, not permitting the perception that the consequences will not happen to all drivers all the time. Obviously, this ideal is difficult to achieve, without, for instance, being able to implement such technology as red light or speed cameras that enforce particular behaviors certainly, swiftly, and consistently. Other new technology of interest would allow monitoring of teens' driving by parents, such that undesirable behavior could lead to consequences such as a loss of driving privileges, or desirable behavior could lead to an increase of driving privileges.
Ensuring that novice drivers have sufficient ability to drive independently is essential. Driver education and training is currently conducted in different ways, by different people, with different qualifications, and with different requirements for those qualifications. As mentioned earlier, a scientific basis for current practices may be lacking.16
It is important to identify what adequate education and training to drive should be, and then to require that. It is also important to determine scientifically what adequate practice and experience would be for licensure to drive independently, and then to require that as well. There is little current knowledge available, however, to do so. Without that knowledge, caution is certainly advisable before allowing teens who have had a driver education course to drive earlier than those who have not.
Traditional driver education courses may not adequately address lifestyle issues that are also related to risky driving.16
One program that attempted to do so was a high school based alcohol misuse prevention program that included refusal skills practice and had a positive effect on students' first year serious driving offenses.42
Graduated driver licensing (GDL) has been a key step in the right direction of helping teens develop their driving ability before being exposed to increasingly risky driving situations. States that do not have GDL should implement it, and states that have it should enhance their program to be the best possible.1,43
With or without GDL, parents of young people learning to drive should ensure that driving ability (knowledge, skill, and experience) is demonstrated through practice under different conditions. Privileges can be gradually granted as they are earned by teens exhibiting responsible independent driving.
It is difficult to target developmental factors with an intervention, as they are, for the most part, not possible to change. But programs can take into account the developmental issues teens bring to the driving task. Licensing age could be reconsidered because of developmental factors. Developmental issues can also be a consideration as GDL programs are enhanced and parents' decisions regarding their own youngsters' driving are being made. Emotional development and maturity, as well as past behavior, as assessed by parents, could be a guide to decisions about teens' readiness to drive independently. Teens' sleep needs also could be considered in GDL program restrictions on new drivers, as well as in high schools' decision making regarding morning start times.
Personality is not usually considered possible to change but again could be considered by parents making decisions about their own teens' readiness to drive independently.
Most demographic factors are not possible to change, but they could also be considered in decisions about readiness to drive independently. An older age of licensure may be desirable, but when considering sex, however, it is more complicated—should young men have to wait to drive longer than young women based on their higher crash numbers? Unfortunately, not enough is known about employment and driving among young teens to make suggestions.
Several things could be done to target young people's perceptions about driving, gleaned from the environment in which they find themselves. Parents could be targeted to learn to set a good driving example and be the best role models. Parents can also be given assistance in learning ways to be more involved with their teens' driving and set more realistic restrictions on their novice teen drivers to enhance their safety.44
Creative programs are also needed that use peers and partners to promote safer driving by young people.
Communities could work to change their norms about young people's driving behavior—for example, sending clear, instead of mixed, messages about drink/driving. Changing the cultural norms about driving would be harder, although there is some current interest in the US overdependence on the automobile, the negative health effects of the built environment, energy use, and emissions.45
The media, both advertising and entertainment, could provide good avenues for interventions, although it may be challenging to enlist their collaboration. Risk perception can be changed, thus providing opportunities for intervention. Publicizing active traffic safety enforcement programs increases the perception of enforcement, thus resulting in safer driving behavior.46
Interventions have begun to target the driving environment, notably in the GDL night driving restriction. Restricting novice teen drivers from being exposed to the higher risk of late night driving until they have gained driving experience has been effective in reducing night‐time crashes.47,48
Parents can be encouraged to restrict novice teens' driving under certain weather and road conditions until their experience is adequate. Parents can also be advised about the risks associated with making a vehicle available to their teen, and the types of vehicles that would be safer for teens to drive. This ecologic approach has value and has also been used by GDL programs and by individual parents to restrict numbers of passengers and the age of passengers allowed to ride with a novice teen driver. Perhaps passenger sex should also be considered. Trip purpose has also been included in some GDL programs, usually to permit exceptions (not necessarily appropriately) to the program's restrictions.
Successful interventions can be developed based on an understanding of the factors from the above conceptual framework. Interventions must be comprehensive to affect the complex issues involved in youthful driving behavior. Ideally, one would begin with interventions that are most likely to succeed, or that will effect the greatest difference in outcome. The framework presented can serve to guide the development of further research questions as well as interventions to be implemented and evaluated.
Further research will be needed to understand the viewpoints of young drivers themselves and their interpretations and explanations of the relationships in the framework, as well as their views of potential interventions. For instance, not wearing seat belts may serve a developmental purpose or function, such as “looking cool” for some young people. Interventions would not be successful without an understanding of the “purpose” of such a behavior, so that safer means to “be cool”, for instance, could be promoted.
The intent of an intervention needs to be clear, and the expected outcome (not necessarily reduced crashes or changed driving behavior) identified. With a sound conceptual basis, interventions will be more likely to succeed, but of course they must be ongoing. If not, behaviors will return to pre‐intervention levels. Successful interventions must also be ongoing because there are always new young drivers entering the driving population. And it may be that changing the behavior of a large group of people will be more easily accomplished with policy level changes rather than with individual behavioral approaches.
Evaluation of interventions is essential, and should include process evaluation as well as evaluation of the impact (on the intermediate measure of interest) and the outcome (driving behavior or crash). Ongoing research and evaluation of interventions may serve to add to and/or refine the conceptual framework presented. It is also important in intervention development to anticipate and monitor for unintended consequences, especially with young people. They can be very creative in reacting to well intentioned intervention efforts, resulting in surprising and often unanticipated outcomes.