“Turn off that video game and do your homework already” is practically the motto of many households with teenagers. And several recent studies have shown that virtual games can have real-life effects on teens’ driving habits.
First, the good news: playing video games can actually help young drivers develop concentration skills and faster reaction times. A University of Rochester study showed that video game players develop greater sensitivity to their surroundings and are up to 25% faster at making correct choices.
But screen time can also lead to reckless behavior once teenagers have their license in hand. The same study showed that gamers who averaged more than eight hours a day of racing were three times as likely to get into a car accident as those who played for less than an hour. According to a 2007 study of drivers ages 16 to 24, more than 30 percent were more likely to drive faster after playing a driving game, and a German study from the same year found participants were more aggressive when they drove a simulator right after finishing a virtual race.
It’s not just racing games that can spur risky driving. A 2012 study published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture surveyed teenagers who played mature-rated video games involving violence. Those who often played the games were more likely to admit to unsafe driving habits like speeding, tailgating or not wearing seatbelts (all leading causes of teenage driver accidents).
So how can parents make sure the safe-driving message gets heard? Video games don’t have to be banned altogether, but playing time should be limited; the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping kids’ total screen time—on smartphones, TV and games—to less than two hours per day. Also, encourage kids to choose racing games over fighting- or shooter-style ones.
Here are some additional ways to help teens develop healthy driving habits.
– Ask young drivers to turn off the screen well before getting behind the wheel.
– Prohibit speeding; most teen drivers don’t have the experience to handle a vehicle at high speeds.
– Encourage teens to leave early, so they don’t feel like they have to speed to get where they’re going.
– Give new drivers extra practice in changing weather conditions. There’s a reason racing games add rain to increase the difficulty of a course!
– Model safe driving habits, like leaving at least two seconds of space between your vehicle and the car ahead.
– Write a parent-teen driving contract to set the expectation of safe driving.
Next: Take our Teen Driving Quiz