GAINESVILLE – Lt. Mike Burroughs of the Florida Highway Patrol describes them as “the fast and the furious” generation.
They are teenage drivers speeding on the state’s highways, and a recent University of Florida study reveals that speeding may not be their only risky behavior.
Psychiatrists at UF’s McKnight Brain Institute say that teenagers who break the speed limit are more likely than nonspeeding teens to gamble, use drugs or drink alcohol.
Teens who bet on sports or who scratch off lottery tickets are far more likely to risk their lives by driving above the speed limit than adolescents who do not gamble, they reported Monday at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting in New Orleans.
“The implications for parents are huge,” said Dr. Mark Gold, a distinguished professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at UF’s College of Medicine. “Parents tend to view speeding as an island, rather than to say that it is a clue to other behaviors that could help them save their child’s life.”
Burroughs added: “Don’t sidestep the issue of how dangerous driving is. The number-one cause of death for a person between the ages of 15 and 34 is in a traffic crash, and yet we put our teenagers behind the wheel.”
For the study, funded by the nonprofit Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, UF researchers conducted telephone interviews with more than 1,000 Florida teens 13 to 17 about gambling activities, alcohol and drug use, mental health and speeding.
Of that group, the study focused on 15- to 17-years-olds who said they were drivers. Researchers said they think it is the first survey to indicate a correlation between speeding (driving 10 mph or more above the posted speed limit) and gambling.
“This is the first time that anyone has looked at these risk factors together, even though intuitively it would make sense that there might be a constellation of impulsive or illegal behaviors,” said Dr. Nathan Shapira, an assistant professor of psychiatry who led the study. “It is shocking how closely associated they were.”
Shapira added, “When Judi Online gamblers talk about driving, they speak in terms of passing other cars, beating the clock or beating a ticket. Driving embodies a sense of winning.”
These young drivers don’t worry about accidents, injuries and death because they are in the moment, the researcher said.
As a Highway Patrol trooper, Burroughs says it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that we are reaping what we have sown.
“You’re turning a person, sometimes just 16 years old, out on the road with a weapon that weighs about 2,500 pounds that can go 100, 120, even 140 mph. They are out there with drunken or drugged drivers, people who have a myriad of other life problems, and aggressive drivers with road rage. And they are at an age where they can still be influenced highly by their peers,” Burroughs said.
The recipe can spell disaster, according to Burroughs, and is reflected in the fact that more teens are now dying in traffic accidents in Florida than at any time in the past.
In 2001, 36 percent of the male drivers 15 to 20 years old who were involved in fatal crashes were speeding, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Shapira said the survey found a constellation of illegal behaviors associated with speeding.
“The problem from a public health standpoint is an adolescent can appear in court for speeding, but no one asks about gambling, or drugs and alcohol,” he said. “All of these behaviors need to be assessed to get a better picture of this individual for intervention’s sake.”
Don’t just turn over the car keys to the young driver in your household, Burroughs advises parents.
“You need to ensure that they have had driver’s ed training and that they are aware of the dangers out there on the road.”
Burroughs says parents need to be partners in preparing a teen for the driving arena, particularly since driver’s education is no longer required in schools.
Always expect something to go wrong, he warns, and always offer young drivers a safety tip as they head out the door.
After all, both Burroughs and Shapira agree, it could save your child’s life.