The present study was set up to investigate the social-cognitive correlates of risky cycling behaviors of adolescents. Bicycles are a common means of transportation for adolescents in the Netherlands, as well as in other European countries. However, their use also entails high safety and health risks as observed in accident statistics. In 2007, over 3000 adolescents (age 16 - 24) were hospitalized and 169 died in traffic accidents [1
]. In order to decrease the risk many traffic education programs have been adopted. However, most programs lack a decent empirical basis. These programs are based on accident statistics only and not on social psychological determinants of teenage cycling behavior. An insight in the social psychological determinants of teenage cycling behavior is important when behavior change is the aim of the program [2
]. Interventions to promote safer cycling in adolescents should start with an assessment aiming to identify specific behaviors contributing to the health and safety problem at hand and their social-cognitive determinants. Following the formulation of program objectives, methods for change are selected that target the identified social-cognitive determinants. These methods are then translated in specific strategies that fit the intervention context and integrated into a comprehensive intervention program while anticipating program implementation and evaluation [2
]. The present study aimed to identify relevant social-cognitive correlates of risky cycling behavior in adolescents to inform future intervention programs.
Many explanations have been put forward explaining why adolescents show more risky behaviors in general and specifically in traffic [for overviews, see [4
]]. For instance, when children reach adolescence, this coincides with an increase in independence. Because adolescents may explore boundaries, may fail to recognize potentially harmful situations or may actually seek out risky situations, chances of encountering these situations increase, which would not happen (or happen less) under parental supervision [4
]. The early adolescent period is characterized by a decrease in parental supervision [5
]. Biologically, the adolescent period comes with an onset of hormones which lead to sensitivity for social approval and a tendency to show bravery in the eyes of peers. Moreover, there is an increase in exploratory and reward-seeking activities in adolescence [4
]. Besides, because adolescents do have the skills to ride a bicycle safely it is often assumed that it is the adolescents' conscious decision to take risks in traffic. But is that really the case, or are there other purposes for their behavior, like 'being cool' [6
Reyna and Farley [7
] provide an overview of explanations why adolescents may seek out situations with potential risks. For instance, they state that adolescents are capable of rational decision making but they are also, more than adults, willing to explore risky options. Whereas adults are generally risk avoidant, adolescents are likely to weigh the pros and cons of any given situation. Often the pros will outweigh the cons, because traffic is objectively quite safe and adolescents typically prefer short-term benefits over long-term benefits [7
There is a good chance risky behavior of car drivers has its origin in the driver's younger years. Reason and colleagues suggest that people learn to act dangerously in traffic because risky behavior is often not punished, but rather perceived as advantageous [8
]. Thus risky behaviors are likely to become a habitual part of one's driving style. It is therefore important to promote risk-avoiding behavior before people start driving cars and preferably during early adolescence.
Shope and Bingham [6
] list a series of possible determinants explaining why young drivers run more risk than adult drivers: characteristics of the behavior (i.e. staying up late in the weekends, which leads to sleep deprivation), abilities (i.e. lack of expertise), developmental factors (i.e. brain development), behavioral factors (i.e. aggression), personality (i.e. hostility), demographics (i.e. less parental supervision), social environmental factors (i.e. peers), and physical environment (i.e. distractions). Males [9
] states that the financial situation of adolescents may play a part - adolescents usually have less money to spend than adults, and consequently are forced to buy cars of lesser quality. Keating and Halpern-Felsher [5
] suggest that developmental factors are the most relevant and that expertise comes with experience and practice. They state that there is no evidence that young drivers underestimate risks more than adult drivers. Reyna and Farley [7
] also stress that adolescents, despite conventional wisdom, do feel vulnerable and generally overestimate risks. Indeed, after the age of 14, it can be assumed that there are no differences between teens and adults concerning the perception of risk [10
]. Traffic education should therefore not focus on accuracy of risk perceptions, or on deliberately weighing pros and cons, but should promote risk-avoiding behaviors instead [7
]. In addition, all these authors urge for a better understanding of the social-cognitive determinants of adolescent road use behaviors, since through those determinants behavior might be changed.
In the present study we focus on risky adolescent cycling behavior in the Netherlands from a social psychological perspective. The goal of this study is to analyze the relation between risky behavior and relevant social-cognitive determinants. The determinants measured in this study were selected based on current theoretical insights [2
], specific social cognition models of human risk behavior, in particular Theory of Planned Behavior [11
], and on expected associations with safe or unsafe cycling: risk-perceptions, attitudes, responsibility, experience with accidents, and self-efficacy.
While many causes of risky cycling behavior are known, a need for a better insight in social cognitive determinants still exists. Without a decent understanding of the social cognitive determinants underlying risky cycling behavior, education initiatives focused on behavior change are bound to fail. Accurate insights will lead to proper focal points of interventions, which increase the chance of interventions being successful in improving safer traffic behavior and reducing accidents. This study aims to contribute to a better insight in these social cognitive determinants.