Collisions between bicycles and motor vehicles are one of the leading risk factors for injury and death in childhood and adolescence. We examined longitudinal and concurrent effortful control (EC) as predictors of risky bicycling behavior in early- to mid-adolescence, with age and gender as moderators. We also examined whether EC was associated with parent-reported real-world bicycling behavior and all lifetime unintentional injuries.
Parent-reported EC measures were collected when children (N = 85) were 4 years old and when they were either 10 years (N = 42) or 15 years (N = 43) old. We assessed risky bicycling behavior by asking the adolescents to bicycle across roads with high-density traffic in an immersive virtual environment. Parents also reported on children’s real-world bicycling behavior and lifetime unintentional injuries at the time of the bicycling session.
We found that both longitudinal and concurrent EC predicted adolescents’ gap choices, though these effects were moderated by age and gender. Lower parent-reported early EC in younger and older girls predicted a greater willingness to take tight gaps (3.5 s). Lower parent-reported concurrent EC in older boys predicted a greater willingness to take gaps of any size. Children lower in early EC started bicycling earlier and were rated as less cautious bicyclists as adolescents. Adolescents lower in concurrent EC were also rated as less cautious bicyclists and had experienced more lifetime unintentional injuries requiring medical attention.
Early measures of child temperament may help to identify at-risk populations who may benefit from parent-based interventions.