Addicted to joyriding

Some young people show all the signs of being addicted to joyriding, the dangerous driving of stolen cars for the thrill of it. That’s according to Sue Kellett (Community Drug and Alcohol Services, Leicester) and Harriet Gross (Loughborough University) who say their research has implications for how to rehabilitate young joyriders.

Kellett and Gross interviewed 54 male joyriders aged between 15 and 21 years, who were in custody in either North Ireland or the Midlands following convictions for car theft.

As with drug abuse, the main motivation for joyriding seemed to be mood-modification. “…you get a buzz out of drugs yeh, well it’s 10 times better than that…” said one participant.

There was evidence of ‘tolerance’ as participants described stealing ever faster cars and seeking out more chases with the police. When they couldn’t joyride participants craved the thrill “I don’t know, you just get like an aching in your mind…you just want to go out there and just drive about”. And at least one participant described taking more drugs when he was unable to joyride, indicative of ‘withdrawal’.

Some participants had tried to stop but couldn’t. “I don’t know what it is, I’ve tried to stop, I just can’t do it, I’ve tried and tried but I just can’t do it, I don’t know why”, one 16-year-old said. Indeed, participants continued joyriding even in the face of overwhelming negative consequences: “like I put one of my mates in a coma before”, said one.

The authors suggested borrowing rehabilitation strategies, such as harm reduction, from the field of addiction. “If joyriders are not considering changing their behaviour in the immediate future then it is sensible to consider ways in which their activities might be made safer”, they said. For example, the authors recommended providing “…meaningful education regarding the effects of taking drugs and alcohol whilst driving…the benefit of wearing seatbelts; judging distance and stopping times; the effects of adverse weather conditions; plus discussions of the times and places that increase the likelihood of encountering pedestrians”.

Kellett, S. & Gross, H. (2005). Addicted to joyriding? An exploration of young offenders’ accounts of their car crime. Psychology, Crime and Law, 12, 39-59.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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