The wide expansion of cities' residential, commercial, recreational and public spaces, otherwise known as urban sprawl poses an extra risk to teen drivers, says a new study.
According to Dr. Matthew Trowbridge, emergency medicine physician and lead researcher, teens on an average drive more miles per day in areas with greater sprawl and have a higher rate of fatalities per miles driven than adults.
"While sprawl has been examined for its public health risks including the driving hazards it presents for adults; no one had ever studied its specific impact on teen drivers," Trowbridge said.
"Over 3,500 teen drivers are killed each year in the United States. Teen driver fatality rates are 4 to 8 times higher than adult drivers. Therefore, environmental characteristics that increase daily miles driven by teens increase their risk of being killed in a motor vehicle crash. This makes it particularly important to study how environment affects the driving behavior of this age group," Trowbridge added.
The results were based on driving and demographic data gathered from the National Household Transportation Survey.
The research team developed an algorithm to measure sprawl, daily miles driven by teens, demographic characteristics and the probability of teens driving more than 20 miles each day in counties with varying degrees of sprawl.
Of the 4,528 teens surveyed, 48 percent reported that they didn't drive. 27 percent drove less than 20 miles and 25 percent drove greater than 20 miles. More pronounced sprawl was associated with increased daily mileage.
"Teens in more sprawling counties were more likely to drive more than 20 miles per day than similar teens living in more compact areas. Moreover, this association was stronger among the youngest and least experienced teen drivers," Trowbridge said.
The researchers concluded that the increased efforts to understand and modify the effects of urban sprawl are necessary to improving teen driver safety.
The study is published in American Journal of Preventative Medicine.