Examining Cognitive Variables and Decision-making Strategies Related to Adolescent Driver Performance

Principal Investigator: Jessica H. Mirman, PhD, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Below is an executive summary of this project. Please note that this summary describes results and interpretation that may not be final. Final interpretation of results will be in the peer-reviewed literature.


A main reason why teens crash is that they have a greater tendency for risky behaviors, as well as an increased susceptibility to peer influence relative to other age groups. It is thought that risk perceptions, the extent to which behaviors are perceived as risky, have a lot to do with adolescents’ intentions to perform risky behaviors and how these intentions are realized by their peers. The intent of this research was to better understand the relationship between risk perceptions and risky driving behaviors within a peer setting and to inform the development of a training program for teens learning to drive.

The study assessed risk perceptions of 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds recruited from the general population (i.e., DMVs, schools, etc.). At the beginning of the study, participants were asked to complete written surveys and the Balloon Analog Risk Task (BART, a validated measure of risk-taking). The surveys contained items that measured demographic characteristics, risk perceptions, self-reported engagement in risky driving behaviors, and resistance to peer influence using the Resistance to Peer Influence (RPI) survey. For example, the quantitative items asked respondents to estimate their risk of crashing using percentages (e.g. 20 percent). Specific risk items asked respondents to evaluate their risk within a specific time frame and utilized a likert-type scale for collecting responses. In order to determine which risk items best predicted risky behaviors, participants completed the surveys a second time using an online survey tool three months later.

This study found that both teens' gist-risk perceptions (e.g., value-based) and their perceptions about their ability to resist the influence of their peers were most protective against engaging in risky driving behavior, speeding/racing and driving dangerously with peer passengers. These factors are promising targets of possible future interventions to decrease the number of teen crashes, and the research results provide evidence for crafting likely effective messages for this audience.  

IAB Mentors

Chris Mullen, State Farm Insurance Companies; Doug Longhitano, Honda R&D Americas Inc.; Steve Roberson, State Farm Insurance Companies

Publication References