The characteristics of young pre-licensed drivers: evidence from the New Zealand Drivers Study.
BACKGROUND Young car drivers run a higher risk of road traffic crash and injury not only because of their lack of experience but also because of their young age and their greater propensity for adopting unsafe driving practices. Also, low family socioeconomic position increases the risk of crash and of severe crash in particular. Whether this holds true for young unlicensed drivers as well is not known. Increasing attention is being drawn to the prevalence and practice of unlicensed driving among young people as an important contributor to road traffic fatalities. METHODS This is a population-based cohort study linking Swedish national register data for a cohort of 1 616 621 individuals born between 1977 and 1991. Crash circumstances for first-time road traffic crash (RTC) were compared considering licensed and unlicensed drivers. The socioeconomic distribution of injury was assessed considering household socioeconomic position, social welfare benefits, and level of urbanicity of the living area. The main outcome measure is relative risk of RTC. RESULTS RTCs involving unlicensed drivers were over-represented among male drivers, suspected impaired drivers, severe injuries, crashes occurring in higher speed limit areas, and in fair road conditions. Unlicensed drivers from families in a lower socioeconomic position showed increased relative risks for RTC in the range of 1.75 to 3.25. Those living in rural areas had an increased relative risk for a severe RTC of 3.29 (95% CI 2.47 - 4.39) compared to those living in metropolitan areas. CONCLUSIONS At the time of the crash, young unlicensed drivers display more risky driving practices than their licensed counterparts. Just as licensed drivers, unlicensed young people from low socioeconomic positions are over-represented in the most severe injury crashes. Whether the mechanisms lying behind those similarities compare between these groups remains to be determined.