With motor vehicle crashes ranked as the leading cause of death for teens in the U.S. according to the CDC, it is natural for parents to harbor some fear about their teen climbing behind the wheel. The good news is that there are logical explanations for the high rate of teen driver accidents and understanding the reasons allows for parents and teen drivers to work together for prevention.
The Teenage Brain
Most people have had at least one interaction with a teenager that left them wondering what in the world was going on inside the teen’s head. The teenage brain can be confusing because it has matured beyond childhood but still isn’t fully adult. During the teen years, the frontal lobe is still developing.
The frontal lobe is the part of the brain where higher-level thinking takes place. The cognitive processes that happen there—executive functions—help people make decisions, monitor and control behavior, manage complex tasks, etc. Research has shown that a couple of these functions are especially important for safe driving: working memory and inhibitory control.
With this in mind, it makes sense that 75% of teen driver accidents are due to three common errors:
- lack of scanning to detect and respond to hazards,
- driving too fast for road conditions,
- and distraction by something either inside or outside the car.
Teen Driver Accident Prevention
Knowledge is power. Understanding the root causes of teen driver accidents means you and your teen can develop prevention methods.
There is some evidence that improved driver education, including simulated driver training, can help teens with working memory deficits to drive better under complex circumstances. More practice allows teens to experience more situations before hitting the road solo. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia offers resources for parents to create driving lesson plans for their teen. They also offer videos, tips, and quizzes online that focus on specific driving skills teens need to practice. They focus on some of the cognitive skills they may still be developing.
Graduated Driver Licensing Systems
Some states have Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) systems in place that require teens to get a certain amount of practice before receiving a license. Some also limit driving privileges, such as driving certain times of the day or with other people in the car, until after the teen has completed additional requirements. Even if your state does not have GDL, your family can. You can implement rules to help keep your teen safe.
Do you know that little sound your car makes when you start to change lanes into another car? Features like that are part of advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) technologies meant to aid drivers in safe driving. These features can be especially useful for teen drivers in helping to compensate for some of their executive function deficits.
When it comes to parenting teens, open communication is key. Talk with your teen. Educate them on the challenges of driving as a teenager. Make sure your teen is aware of the leading causes of teen driver accidents. Awareness of the issues is one piece of the prevention puzzle.
Cell Phone Limits
Cell phones are one of the biggest distractors for drivers—teens and adults alike. Set rules about cell phone use in the car. Follow those rules yourself to set the example. If you have a teen that just can’t resist the distraction of the cell phone, you might consider using some of the cell phone blocking technology available.
Don’t let the statistics about teen drivers overwhelm you. Be informed, but use that information to create a plan to help keep your teen safe.