Fans of computer racing games are more likely to drive aggressively and be involved in real-life road accidents, psychologists have found.

German researchers said their findings are evidence that playing racing games can result in taking more risks on the road and raised concerns children as young as 10 play games like City Racer, Crash Day, Critical Velocity and Burnout 2: Point of Impact. By the time they were old enough to get behind the wheel of a real vehicle, they could be programmed for risk-taking, the psychologists said.

The researchers found men, but not women, were more likely to take risks on a driving simulator after playing a racing computer game.

Their findings come as it was claimed a whole generation of drivers could become uninsurable if the death and injury rate for young drivers is not slowed.

There are 35 deaths and serious injuries to 15 to 25-year-old drivers and riders every day and Co-operative Insurance (CIS) is now warning that if nothing is done to reduce the death rate, young drivers could soon be completely priced out of the insurance market .

The cost of insuring young drivers has increased by 22% over the past three years, compared with a rise of just 2% for all other motorists.

CIS has worked with the road safety charity Brake to produce an education pack for schools - Too Young to Die. Jools Townsend, head of education at Brake, said: "Too many young people think they're invincible and fail to consider how their dangerous actions behind the wheel can kill and maim themselves, their friends and other road users."

Looking at the links between virtual car racing and risk taking on the real roads, the psychologists from Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich questioned 198 randomly chosen men and 92 women aged 16 to 45 about their driving behaviour, accident record and the extent of their racing game play.

The findings were reported in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, published by the American Psychological Association. The researchers wrote: "Practitioners in the field of road safety should bear in mind the possibility that racing games indeed make road traffic less safe, not least because game players are mostly young adults, acknowledged as the highest accident-rate group."

The research showed that after playing just one virtual racing game, men took greater risks in critical traffic situations on a computer simulator.

In another experiment the researchers assigned 83 people to play either typical racing or neutral games. To win the racing games, they had to "massively violate" traffic rules. Those who engaged in racing games were more likely to report thoughts and feelings linked to risk taking.

The researchers said: "Our results pose the question of whether playing racing games leads to accidents in real-life road traffic. Playing racing games could provoke unsafe driving."