teens playing video games

Do Video Games Affect Teen Driving?

“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

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    Leave a comment

  1. Pep Edger says,

    If someone is playing 8 or more hours of video games, they probably aren’t getting too much sleep (or have other problems) that I feel would be more likely to lead to unsafe driving. Also, “participants were more aggressive when they drove a simulator right after finishing a virtual race,” is kind of bogus. Maybe it was a typo. Was the study really to see if people would drive more aggressively on a computer after just finishing racing on a computer? Why wouldn’t they? Nothing to lose, no one to hurt after all. just some fun to be had flooring it. The article acts like these studies are facts, when in fact, the studies themselves haven’t even jumped to a conclusion like the author has. Be sure to keep an open mind and think for yourself when reading people.

  2. Glenn says,

    I’m in mid 50’s and I am sure that playing video games positively contributed to improving reflexes. When I steer quickly to avoid a mistake by another driver I often say “Thanks to ‘Asteroids’ I’ve been saved again today.

    Motorcycle riding, bicycle riding, playing team sports….and sleep…all contributed to better reaction times while driving a car…..probably more than video games.

    I encouraged my kids to play video games when they were young…but they were more interested in studying. Sad….wasted youth spent on studying instead of honing their driving skills.

  3. Joe Braun says,

    Very Interesting Article.

    It might be worthwhile to have a video that encouraged good driving in realistic situations which can get to be pretty scary, e.g. when large trucks at high speeds are present in bad weather!

    Doesn’t need to be a game, just maybe something on U-tube.


  4. David says,

    Wow just another way to blame someone’s actions other than the person who did the act.
    What ever happened to personal responsibility. Don’t blame the Game the Car or the Gun.
    Most kids know right from wrong at about age two. If you have to blame something blame the gene’s the kids have irresponsible parents and they most not have a life if there playing eight hours a day.
    Get a JOB.

  5. John says,

    The story within the story: apparently some parents allow their kids to play over 8 hours of video games a day. Those parents should probably be cited for child neglect!

  6. ManoaHi says,

    Correlation is not causation. Diet, other activities like sports, peer types, environment (family life as well as environmental climate), who’s riding, phone usage while driving, alcohol or drug usage, etc. Too many factors in causing accidents, but centered only on gaming (or screen time)?

    “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).”

    Interesting, “not wearing seat belts” is one of the “leading causes of teenage driver accidents”? I’ve never heard of lack of seat belts causing accidents. Like why did he crash? He wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Huh? More like preventing death or injury, where the question isn’t cause of crash but cause of death. Why did he die? He wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

    But back to “Those who often played the games were more likely to admit to unsafe driving habits ” More likely to admit. So, as a comparison (since “more” is used) would be that those who don’t often played games are less likely to “admit” to unsafe driving habits. I remember being a teenager (those computer/console games didn’t exist yet), and yeah we drove rather unsafely when parents weren’t in the car. So, gamers are more likely to tell the truth (admit), while non gamers more likely to lie (not admitting). I’ll accept correlation but I can’t make the jump to causation.