Young men and their cars.

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For many young men, cars are not simply a means of transport. Cars are an integral part of many young men’s sense of who they are. 

For these young men, their car is an extension of their emerging masculinity. Their car becomes a symbol of their status and power. Cars provide young men with a social network, not only with peers but also with significant role models such as fathers, brothers and older peers who also participate in car culture.

These associations for young men often override the road safety messages about the dangers of speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol and/ or drugs, and not wearing seat belts. This is against the alcohol laws.

Cars and identity.

Cars symbolise masculinity and are a means of asserting personal status and power for many young men [1].

Cars allow young men to express creativity in modifying, painting, and decorating their vehicles. In expressing their creativity, the car provides status, self-esteem, and the opportunity to feel seen.

These qualities of pride, a sense of status and self-esteem are essential for many young men who have struggled through an educational system where they feel disempowered, unseen, and unable to compete with others whose skills may be in the academic or sporting areas.

If we don’t understand how cars contribute to the identity of many young men, we may dismiss or discredit the importance of this link. The risk of not understanding this link is that any communication or messaging around safety is lost because it is not keying into young men’s identities.

Identity and power.

While the stereotypical behaviours and set attitudes used to determine masculinity are changing, much still needs to change. The rising incidence of domestic and family violence demonstrates the work that needs to be done in assisting men in developing healthy behaviours that do not involve the abuse of power.

There is still the view of the male as tough, competitive, emotionally inexpressive and not afraid to take risks. This view often gets played out in young men’s relationships with their cars and the risks they take when driving.

Their car becomes the way they show they are risk takers, tough and competitive. For example, drag racing and road rage are ways in which an individual seeks to assert dominance and power.

The power of social networks

Cars not only provide a young man with a sense of identity; they also are how many young men demonstrate their power and control by taking risks. This is where the taking risk can result in harm, particularly where the risk is greater than their ability to control the vehicle. Or their ability to gauge the risk is diminished by alcohol and/or drugs.

Cars also provide young men with a social network. The social support provided by belonging to the car culture is essential for the well-being of many young men. Not only do they receive support from their same-age peers, but more importantly, they receive support from fathers, older brothers and peers.

The advice and support from fathers and older peers can reinforce the importance of road safety messages.

[1]  Youth Studies Australia Vol 26 Number 3 2007. Pg.31

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