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ROAD & TRAVEL Magazine Teens & Tots Safety: Tips for Teens & Parents

Teen brain development makes driving dangerous;
use these tips to train your new drivers

by Les Jackson

Nearly half of teenagers who die prematurely and in a tragic way in the U.S. do so as a result of vehicle crashes. Half of those, sadly, die while riding as passengers with other teen drivers. Teens are in the highest risk category when it comes to vehicle crashes, chiefly due to inexperience behind the wheel but also several other factors. The incidence of crash involvements per 1,000 people is almost double for teenagers over that for other age groups.

"Research shows that the two conditions most dangerous for teen drivers are: driving with passengers and driving at night."

The National Safety Council (NSC) considers the problem to be a national crisis, as do insurance companies and most parents. Experts in the field are spending massive resources in an effort to find ways to cut down the death rate and minimize the danger to teen drivers, but all agree that the fight is difficult and one that begins and ends with the teenager.

According to the NSC, researchers are finding that the area of the brain that controls the ability to weigh the consequences of one’s actions has not yet reached maturity in the teenager. In fact, this area of the brain doesn’t develop fully until about the age of 25. In addition, active hormones in the teen brain limit the ability to control mood and excitability and create the thrill-seeking behavior so often seen in young people. This, experts agree, is a bad set of behavioral factors in which to introduce driving skills.

And so it goes, the target of most campaigns is to provide the teenager with as much knowledge and crucial experience behind the wheel as possible.

Practice Makes Perfect
Driving is an acquired skill. Professional drivers (truckers, race drivers, police, ambulance, etc.) don’t become highly skilled without training, education and the desire to gain proficiency through practice. It is only through a learned understanding of vehicle dynamics, closing speeds, distance measurement and reaction times that a good driver can control most situations.

The budding teenage driver by nature has none of these skills at the outset. He/she has only the desire to achieve the freedom and enjoyment that driving provides. Consequently, driver training programs around the country attempt to gradually expose teenagers to the many challenges that driving brings.

Graduated Licensing
Research shows that the two conditions most dangerous for teen drivers are: driving with passengers and driving at night. Therefore, licensing programs have been evolving to limit these risks. The most widespread of these programs is graduated licensing.

Graduated licensing is a three-stage system that exposes beginner drivers to the harsh realities of the road by first issuing a learner’s permit. This is followed by an intermediate license and finally a full license. The learner’s permit and intermediate license have a minimum age requirement (16 years in most states) and must be held for a specified minimum period of time.

Teens with learner’s permits may only drive with a fully licensed driver, typically a driving instructor or parent. Intermediate licenses frequently allow "solo" driving, but without young passengers and only during daylight hours. Full licenses allow unlimited driving privileges, but only when they are earned.

Graduated licensing programs work. So far, programs have proven to be the most effective way to limit teen driver crashes, although other ideas are being tested. Simulators, intensive driving schools, etc., all show evidence that those who finish the courses tend to drive more safely. However, the costs and logistics involved in such programs make them impractical on a large scale. That leaves one major additional source of training: the parent.

Parental Involvement
It’s of vital importance for parents to get actively involved with their teenagers’ driving habits. To that end, the NSC publishes a very informative brochure entitled, "Teen Driver: A Family Guide to Teen Driver Safety." Downloads of the publication can be obtained here for $8 at and printed copies can be ordered for $10 each.

The guide takes the parent through the procedures of managing the teen driver’s experiences and measuring risky behavior. It has a lot of helpful suggestions on ways to maintain effective two-way communication with the teenager.

A number of novel programs to encourage parental involvement with their teen’s driving are practiced in various states/jurisdictions. Many local jurisdictions now have a formal license ceremony in which teenagers and their parents/guardians gather in a courtroom where a judge gives a speech on safety and responsible behavior and informs the teenagers that their parents are granted the legal right to confiscate the new license if they act irresponsibly. The jurisdiction will honor the action and suspend the license.

Tips for Teens (All Drivers, Actually)

  • Get in the habit of glancing at the rear and side view mirrors every 30 seconds or so. Those who develop this habit seldom get involved in fender-bender accidents and have the greatest ability to get out of the way if being overtaken by a speeding vehicle.

  • Seatbelts, seatbelts, seatbelts!

  • Don’t tailgate. Doing so isn’t a question of if you get into a crash, but when.

  • Limit distractions while driving

  • Look out the windshield! You don’t have to face your passengers when you talk to them.

  • If the cell phone rings, pull over to answer it. If you’re going at highway speeds don’t bother answering it. If you’re sitting in traffic tell the caller that you’ll call back after you finish your drive.

  • Drinking and driving never mix and never will. Don’t do it.

  • If you’re drowsy, pull into a 24-hour store or gas station and get a soda or coffee. If necessary, lock the doors and take a short nap, but phone home to tell someone where you are.

(Source: AIADA)