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Young adults with ‘impulsive’ personalities may be at greater risk of reckless driving: study

May 24, 2017

Rockville, MD – Troubled young adults who exhibit impulsive personality traits may be more likely to drive recklessly or while impaired, according to a recent study from the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers from NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development analyzed questionnaire results from 1,100 adults ages 18 to 30 who had participated in outpatient drug treatment programs, were involved in the criminal justice system or who attended schools for teens with behavioral issues. Respondents were asked to state their level of agreement or disagreement with various statements gauging behavioral impulses. They then were asked if, during the past year, they had taken chances while operating a motor vehicle. Examples included speeding and driving while high or drowsy from drugs or alcohol.

Results showed that high scores on impulsivity responses were linked with a greater likelihood of driving recklessly and/or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Participants with high scores in the personality categories “sensation seeking” and “negative urgency” exhibited a higher risk for both reckless driving and driving under the influence. Those with high scores on “lack of premeditation” were at higher risk for reckless driving, while high scores on “lack of perseverance” were linked to a higher risk for driving under the influence.

Participants with high scores in both “sensation seeking” and “lack of premeditation” showed the greatest risk for driving under the influence, the researchers said.

“Our findings suggest that the ability to pause and think before acting is linked to both types of reckless driving behaviors among high-risk young adults, but in different ways,” Jeremy Luk, Ph.D., lead study author, said in an April 19 press release. “For most of the young adults, scoring high in sensation seeking increased the risk for driving under the influence – except for those who also scored high in premeditation. In other words, the ability to pause and think before acting appeared to reduce the tendency of sensation seekers to drive under the influence.”

The study was published online March 30 in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.