Several important factors make teen drivers more dangerous behind the wheel than their older counterparts. Here are the biggest teen driving risks and how they stack up:
Driving & teen brain development
Because the teen brain is still developing, it’s more prone to mental errors and lapses in judgment. “The brain centers responsible for coordinating responses and multitasking haven’t fully developed in teens,” says David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah who studies the effects of cellphone use on the brain. (Andrews, 2010) This makes them more susceptible to distractions, and so multi-tasking behind the wheel is especially dangerous for teens.
Teens often underestimate the risks they face when driving
Even if teens acknowledge the risks, they often don’t think it can or will happen to them. In one survey, the percentage of teens who strongly agreed that they could succumb to these risks was as follows:
- 36% agreed that they could die someday as a result of regularly texting and driving.
- 55% agreed the same could happen if they made a habit of drinking and driving.
- 63% agreed they could get into a crash if they text and drive.
- 78% agreed they could get into a crash if they drink and drive. (Copeland, 2010)
It’s important for parents to discuss these issues repeatedly on as personal a level as possible, so that teens get the message that it really can happen to them.
Teens are more vulnerable to peer pressure
Studies reveal that the teen brain shows more activity in pleasure/reward centers of the brain in response to peers than their older counterparts. Get several teenagers together in one car, and the urge to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do is stronger. This can happen when peers encourage reckless behavior, or on a child’s own accord because they want to show off or impress their friends. Peers also keep a teen’s brain occupied with friends and less focused on the road. It’s for these reasons that teens are so much more likely to crash if they have friends riding with them.
Teens often engage in (or are around) risky driving behavior
While the majority of teens do buckle up, they are still the age group least likely to wear their safety restraints, especially when riding with friends. In one recent survey, half of all teens say they’ve witnessed other teens driving drunk. Three-quarters of teens admit to driving when fatigued. (Mahoney, 2009) Their fearless attitude and feelings of invincibility can lead them to cut corners.
Teens are inexperienced behind the wheel
By far the biggest factor is a teen’s inexperience behind the wheel. It doesn’t much matter whether your child is 16 or 22 when learning to drive, inexperience trumps youth. Yes, being young comes with it’s own risks, but the inexperience is the bigger factor. The more you do to prepare a child for when they get behind the wheel, the more you can reduce this driving risk.
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