‘Boy racers’ under the microscope

12.00 | 15 April 2014 | | 7 comments

The final confirmed presentation for the Young Driver Focus conference to be held next month will examine ‘boy racers’ and the social reaction to their behaviour.

The presentation, ‘Boy racers and influencing their behaviour’, will be delivered by Dr Karen Lumsden, lecturer in sociology at Loughborough University.

Karen joined Loughborough University in January 2013, having previously held posts at the University of Abertay Dundee and the University of Aberdeen. Her research interests broadly fall under the remit of the sociology of crime and deviance and include policing, youth culture, car culture, and moral panics.

Her presentation will examine ‘boy racers’ and the social reaction to their behaviour. It will shed light on the common misconceptions concerning car modification cultures which are seen to engage in risky and anti-social driving behaviours, fuelling further the myth of the boy racer.

It will also explore the policing and governance of risky and anti-social driving behaviours and how these might be positively influenced.

Young Driver Focus
Young Driver Focus is a collaborative partnership between Road Safety GB and FirstCar, supported by Arval who are providing the venue, technology and refreshments. 

The conference will look at “cutting young driver casualties now and in the future”. As this suggests the event will be forward-focused rather than a retrospective look at young driver collisions and casualties.

The conference will be held at The Arval Centre in Swindon (just off the M4) on Wednesday 14 May 2014, 10.00am – 3.30pm.

The speaker line up comprises: Richard King (CEO of ingenie), Dr Lisa Dorn (Cranfield University), Liz Baldock and Bill Pope (both DVLA), Poppy Husband (TRL), Carly Brookfield (DIA), Alan Kennedy (Road Safety GB), Dave Lawson (Sheffield CC), Steve Horton (Kent CC), Natalie Oakley (Gloucestershire RSP), and Karen Lumsden (Loughborough University). Click here to see the full agenda.

With more than 150 people registered to attend, the event is fully subscribed. Anyone still hoping to do so should complete the registration form and if there are cancellations they will be offered a place.

For more information contact Nick Rawlings on 01379 650112.


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    What has happened to transparency of information re accidents based on gender post the Gender Directive. One day young women pay less than their male counterparts based on recognised statistical risk then the next day they don’t because the EU says it’s unfair on the young men who are known to be more likely to have the accidents. OK, we are where we are, so UK insurers can now charge young women more, earn more profits because we’re more cautious/less confident/less risky/have taken longer to pass our test ie have more experience. Telematics providers earn out of fitting/analysing IT systems to possibly reward unspecified good driving behaviour and those young drivers that can afford to drive end up subsidising the accidents that more young men have than young women. The result? Very few young men and women alike can now afford to drive; only those with rich parents. Is this fair? Or what motor insurers really wanted to achieve? To shrink their market with potentially long term effect? I hope Dr Lumsden provides the insight we all need to know whether the terminology ‘boy racers’ is still accurate or whether it should be consigned to the bin as unfairly offensive. Bring it on. Ignoring gender for PC reasons won’t work because of fundamental differences between the way young men and women drive. Why are we all beating round the bush here? We are now discriminating against drivers by age and wealth…

    Steph Savill, West Sussex
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    Would Dr Karen Lumsden of Loughborough University find it acceptable in this political correctness age and equal rights (especially in university types) not find it offensive and demeaning if the only term used to describe bad, inconsiderate young drivers, as ‘girl-racers’?

    Terry Hudson
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    Duncan’s comments address the root-cause of the behaviour and the detriment to the learning/education side of things rather well, but unless we offer subsidised trackdays/accompanied drives to young drivers, we’re never going to move forwards with his “continuous learning” on a global basis – it’s down to the attitude/aptitude of the individual whether they WANT to listen to what could be seen as criticism, and I strongly suspect the problems are with those who won’t listen.

    I also think there’s a social aspect here – young men (people, but particularly men) have been messing around with cars since the car became accessible c.50 years ago. And they’ve been overcooking it and having accidents all that time. This is not new – arguably it’s probably reducing as more and more young people are putting off driving due to the cost.

    The differences now are (1) we live in a nanny-state which seeks to label all risk as ‘bad’; (2) modern media, including social media, makes incidents all too visible to the wider community and we get the illusion that they’re more frequent, which they may be as (3) the roads are a lot more crowded now than they were, making a multi-party incident more likely than years ago, and a single-vehicle incident less likely.

    Cars are also different – modern cars, while more stable and with far better brakes, are also quicker (like-for-like), so any loss of grip/control will happen at a quicker speed with the corresponding consequences, and often more suddenly due to the higher speeds, stiffer suspension (on even small cars) and smaller sidewalls. Worse still, modern cars offer an illusion of safety (airbags, crumple zones, ESP/EBD/ABS), right up to the point the limits are breached.

    Finally, modern cars do not offer as much feedback to the driver that he/she is approaching the limit, and ‘feel’ slower than they really are due to improved NVH and isolation of the driver (the hunt for the dopamine ‘hit’ thus requires higher speeds still). So a young/inexperienced driver may never have known they were close to the limit 10 times previously around a particular corner, and on the 11th time a minor variable will be different and they’ll have an accident.

    The answer, as always, has to be education, especially in roadcraft and attitudes, but also in how to read a car’s limits and recover from them. The basic driving test addresses none of this, and to me is not fit for purpose with our modern road environment – we are letting the young down by not ensuring they’ve got the skills and training needed before they can drive alone.

    Martin Willis, Stratford upon Avon
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    Sadly it’s a common misconception in the industry that the immature pre-frontal cortex represents a problem to be solved rather than an opportunity to be embraced.

    One of the key facts about brains we need to know is that all learning takes place through feedback from error whether this is learning the capital of Peru or how to steer a push-bike. Dopamine is rather interesting in that is often called the ‘feel-good’ chemical although its function is way more powerful than just making us feel happy. The purpose of Dopamine is to give you a message that “you must pay attention to this” and to help us learn it gives us a little kiss every time we get some feedback from making a mistake. The immature brain is massively more sensitive to dopamine than is the case in the mature brain, simply because the immature brain has a lot of learning still to do.

    Because dopamine is about as addictive as crack cocaine and because of their enhanced sensitivity to it, young people are drawn to seek out its beneficial effects. By far the easiest way to do this is by putting themselves in situations that errors are more likeley to be made and the Dopamine kiss will be reliably delivered. For those of us with a mature pre-fronal cortex the behaviour of people without this maturity seems downright dangerous, but to the youngster this behaviour makes perfect sense as it is the only way that they will be able to learn new stuff.

    The problem for people with immature brains comes about when there is no feedback from error as they may make the mistake, but they don’t then get the Dopamine kiss that helps them to learn from it. When a youngster is on a driving lesson they will be getting a stream of feedback from their instructor even though the unfolding scene in front of them may give no indication that they have made a mistake. When the instructor is removed from the mix a great many mistakes will go un-noticed and that is why they are then doomed to repeating them.

    Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon
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    Could Duncan supply a bit more detail. I always thought that the lack of a link between the frontal lobe and the amygdala meant that young drivers did not readily learn from their mistakes.

    Mike, Coatbridge
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    We have had a problem with “Street” racing in Birmingham for decades, which we have and are tackling in may varied ways as the issue ‘evolves’, and I would just like to say it is very rarely a “boy” behind the wheel and more likely a 30-40 year old “Man”. I appreciate the conference is ‘young driver focussed’ but we have made great efforts in Birmingham to stop using the phrase “boy racers” because in the main it simply isn’t true and mis-labels many young drivers.

    Trudi Maybury, Birmingham
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    Anti-social does not mean anti-safe and it’s good to see that the conference will be discussing the myths surrounding young drivers. Maybe one of the discussion points might be that an immature pre-frontal cortex provides significant benefits as it promotes rapid learning due to an elevated sensitivity to dopamine. The ‘dopamine kiss’ is as we all know the key driver to learning through error, and without it learning of any kind is practically impossible.

    Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon
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