Reckless Driving: The Dread of the Indian Roads?
Reckless driving is a major concern in the Indian society. According to the National Health Portal, India witnessed 1,51,417 deaths due to Road Traffic Accidents (RTA) in 2018. Out of these deaths, 97,588 deaths were caused due to over-speeding, and the second highest cause of death was driving on the wrong side. Among the large population affected by Road Traffic Accidents, young adults ranged between 15-29 years accounted for 69.6% of victims. These statistics are frightening, and they compel us to ask - what causes reckless driving? Why is reckless driving such a pertinent concern among policy makers? How do we ensure the safety of our adolescents and young adults on the road?
Reckless driving can be understood as all those behaviors which resulted in careless and harmful patterns of driving and which endanger the life of the driver and other participants on the road. These behaviors include drink and drive, speeding, ignoring traffic signs and signals, not wearing seatbelts, driving on the wrong side of the road, and driving under the influence of drugs. This behavior has a multifactorial causation - it is the manifestation of a complex interplay of biological, psychological, social and external factors in the environment.
Causative Factors of Reckless Driving
When we adopt a biological perspective to understand this behaviour, the models of risk-taking behaviour and incomplete development of the pre-frontal cortex come to the forefront. Neuroscientists believe that adolescents engage in high risk-taking behaviour due to heightened reward sensitivity and poor impulse control. They are unable to weigh the pros and cons of a behaviour effectively, and are highly driven by a strong need of sensation-seeking. This style of functioning places them at a higher risk of risk-taking behaviour, one of the most prominent ones being reckless driving on streets. Along with the biological development of the individual, psychological factors also come into play. Research studies indicate that individuals who have poor self-regulation and self-monitoring strategies are at a higher risk of reckless driving as compared to their counterparts. Certain Big Five Traits such as low agreeableness, high neuroticism and low conscientiousness also contribute to more instances of reckless driving and road traffic accidents in adolescents and young adults. However, it was seen that in cases where adolescents viewed themselves as adults, risk-taking behaviours decreased. This was brought about by a perceived sense of responsibility which replaced the sense of perceived invulnerability in them.
While biological and personality factors throw light on the internal factors responsible for this risky behaviour, external and social factors throw light on factors in the environment that also precipitate reckless driving. External factors such as availability of drugs, exposure to media content containing reckless driving and traffic policies of an area also influence its frequency. Increased availability and accessibility of drugs along with heightened exposure to violent media content increases the likelihood of reckless driving. This is due to poor inhibitions, heightened reward sensitivity, poor self-control and increased sense of vicarious reward-seeking through media. On the other hand, low drug and poor media content exposure along with strong traffic policies help in controlling and managing the reckless driving behaviour of this population. In addition to all these factors, social factors such as the influence of one’s family and peer groups contribute to reckless driving. Research studies indicate that permissive and uninvolved parenting increases the risk of reckless driving in the offspring. In addition to this, associations with deviant and negative peer groups also places an individual at high risk of reckless driving and road traffic accidents. These factors can be mitigated by ensuring effective and involved parenting, and associations with healthy peer groups. Strong social supports act as a protective buffer for an individual and can help minimize the risk of reckless driving and its consequences in adolescents and young adults.
Unparalleled Collectivism of the Indian Society
The above model depicts the causal factors and their complex interaction with each other which lead to reckless driving in Indian adolescents and young adults. In my opinion, the social factor plays a very strong role in influencing this risky behaviour. India is a collectivist society – we define ourselves more in terms of group goals and identities as opposed to self-goals and identities. Therefore, the influence of our family and peer groups play a major role in either increasing or reducing our reckless driving behaviour. A supportive social group reduces our accessibility to drugs and violent media content, regulates our dispositional and personality factors, and in turn control our tendency to drive recklessly. However, on the other hand, an unsupportive social group can become a risk factor for an Indian adolescent or young adult, thus increasing the likelihood of reckless driving. This increases the risk of Road Traffic Accidents, serious injuries and even poses a possible threat of death!
Understanding the nature and consequences of reckless driving along with delineating its various causes is of utmost importance in order to control and curb this risky behaviour in Indian adolescents and young adults. Traffic policy makers must be made aware of the strong collectivist nature of the Indian culture. As a result of this, they must attempt to make unique traffic policies for the Indian setting which do not mimic the traffic guidelines of any foreign country, which needs to strongly incorporate social support systems as necessary stakeholders. Furthermore, parents, family groups and peer groups must be made aware of their importance in the lives of individuals, and must be subsequently encouraged to provide support and protection in matters of reckless driving. While reckless driving may be temporarily rewarding to its participants, its grave consequences must be strongly emphasized upon. It must be a collective action to tackle this form of risky behaviour which will help us save countless lives per minute!