ASPPH logo


Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Maryland Research Explores Young Drivers’ Drowsy Driving and Provides Framework to Improve Prevention Efforts

Drowsy driving is a public health problem both in the United States and worldwide, as hundreds of thousands of crashes – many fatal – are due to drivers who have dozed off. Individuals between the ages of 16 and 29 have high prevalence rates of drowsy driving and are at higher risk of experiencing resulting crashes. A University of Maryland School of Public Health study used behavioral theory models to better understand young drivers’ attitudes and likelihood of engaging in drowsy driving.

The study found that a young driver’s self-perception that they were capable of driving while drowsy, known as “perceived behavioral control,” and willingness to drive drowsy were the strongest predictors of drowsy driving. These findings could help shape effective safety campaigns.

The study, conducted by doctoral student Mr. Clark Lee and Professor Kenneth H. Beck, both of the department of behavioral and community health, and University of Maryland School of Nursing Associate Professor Jeanne Geiger-Brown, utilized a web-based questionnaire to assess the efficacy of constructs from the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) and the Prototype Willingness Model (PWM), in order to predict intentions and willingness of university students to engage in drowsy driving behaviors. The researchers found that students that reported more favorable attitudes towards drowsy driving, subjective norm or the perceived social pressure to engage in the behavior, and greater perceived control regarding drowsy driving were more likely to report stronger intent to engage in such behavior.

Published in May in Accident Analysis & Prevention, the study may help inform safety messaging to young drivers.

“Developing new campaign messages to focus more on beliefs regarding one’s ability to drive while drowsy, as opposed to one’s actual ability to drive in that state, may enhance the effectiveness of traffic safety efforts, particularly in young people,” Mr. Lee, lead author on the study, noted.

The study methodology is noteworthy, the authors state, as “the Theory of Planned Behavior model for drowsy driving presents a promising theoretical framework for designing more effective anti-drowsy driving messages and interventions for young people.”

Researchers recruited four hundred and fifty undergraduate and graduate students who were at least 18 years of age and had them complete an online questionnaire that assessed; attitudes towards drowsy driving, subjective norms or the perceived pressure to engage in drowsy driving, perceived behavioral control, behavioral intention, behavioral willingness and risk perception for three drowsy driving situations. Other measures that were analyzed in the study included invulnerability to danger, as well as previous driving behavior.

Researchers found that the constructs of perceived behavioral control and behavioral willingness were the strongest predictors of behavioral intention for all three scenarios. Findings did however differ between the three driving situations, which was due to variance in general risk perception, past drowsy driving experience, attitude toward drowsy driving and subjective norm or the perceived pressure to engage in drowsy driving. Race and gender also led to differences between results for the three scenarios. Overall, the findings were consistent with previous studies.

Understanding and utilizing behavioral change models can improve prevention and intervention efforts surrounding drowsy driving, which can in turn lead to decreased overall traffic injury.