If you ever thought your teenager, or teens in general, play spend too much time playing video games, you might be on to something. According to a Pew Research poll, 84 percent of teens said they have a game console at home or have access to one. Other studies have shown that 56 percent of teens play video games an average of 2.5 hours per day. And if you’re convinced that all of this video game playing, especially car driving games, has an impact on teenagers’ real-world driving skills, you’d be right about that too.
The question is what kind of impact do video games have on teenagers’ driving skills? The natural assumption is that they’d negatively impact teens—the thought being that the aggressiveness needed to succeed in these games could follow them to behind a real-life steering wheel and lead to reckless behavior like speeding, tailgating and trying to “beat” yellow lights before they turn red.
However is it possible that teens who play video games for hours—particularly driving games—could actually develop habits to lead to better driving? After all, much like driving, video games require quick reaction time and good hand-eye coordination. With that in mind, should we be so quick to ask teens to put down their controllers?
Well, it depends on whom you ask. Several studies have been conducted to examine video games’ impact on the teen drivers—with varying results. Here are a few observations about whether or not video games impact teen driving.
Different Video Games Impact Teens’ Driving In Different Ways
Teenagers who play more mature or risk-glorifying video games could be more inclined to become reckless drivers than those who don’t play those types of games, according to the American Psychological Association. Reckless driving could lead to an increase in car accidents, police stops and more willingness to drink and drive.
Dartmouth College conducted a study that comprised 5,000 U.S. teenagers, where half of the participants reported in their initial interview that their parents let them play mature video games. The games noted were associated with increases in thrill seeking, rebelliousness and self-reported risky driving, according to the study. The number of teens who said they’d been pulled over between the second and third interviews increased from 11 percent to 21 percent. Meanwhile, the number of participants who said they were in a car accident in that timeframe went from eight percent to 14 percent.
In the third interview, the participants were 16 years old, and 25 percent of them said they engaged in unsafe driving habits. By time the teens were 18, 90 percent of them said they had at least one risky driving habit, including speeding, failing to yield, tailgating and running red lights.
Another study at Xi’an Jiaotong University’s School of Management in China backed up the idea that different types of video games can affect teen drivers differently. In this study, researchers had a group of students play a car racing video game that varied in levels of intensity. It found that participants who took part in the more intense racing game were more likely to take risks in critical traffic situations than those who played the more neutral game.
Driver’s Ed-focused Video Games Can Have A Positive Impact On Teens
Not all video games are created equal. A lot of the games mentioned are designed to finish the fastest or rack up the most points, which isn’t what real-world driving is about. Video games’ impact on teen drivers can be a lot more positive, if and when the driving game more accurately reflects what they will experience on the road.
For example, Edward Downs, a researcher and communication associate professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth used a video game console to change teenagers’ attitudes about distracted driving. He created a driving simulator game that had a steering wheel, gas and brake pedal with the intention of showing teens how dangerous it can be to use a cell phone while driving. Downs’ experiment broke a group of UMD students into three groups: texting while driving, talking while driving and no distractions. Not surprisingly, the texting group was most likely to crash, while the talking while driving group were more likely to have a speed violation.
The participants’ attitudes towards distracted driving changed after they had a chance to use the simulator without distractions and compare their distracted versus non-distracted scores.
Video Games Could Affect Teen Drivers, But There’s No Certainty That They Will
Race-car video games and driving simulator games can give us an idea of how a teen driver will perform, but the only way to know for sure is for them to drive in real-world situations. Basing a teen’s driving ability solely on how they perform with a game or on the type of games they play is unfair to them and likely does not tell the whole story. Driving games, along with Driver’s Ed classroom and behind the (real) wheel training will paint the clearest picture of a teenager’s driving potential.
By Joe Dyton