Learning to drive and receiving a driver’s license makes for some exciting times for young drivers. Those first moments of freedom on the road open up many new possibilities for teenagers accustomed to relying on their parents to get them around town.
Although being a new driver is exciting, it also carries with it very real risk. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, taking the lives of six teens a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Harvard Health Publications states that lack of experience behind the wheel is one factor behind high crash rates among teens, but other factors also may be in play. The prefrontal cortex, which contains the neural mechanisms of self-control, is one of the last parts of the brain to mature. As a result, teenagers are prone to taking risks, behaving impulsively and seeking sensation. These traits can be dangerous behind the wheel of a car.
Preventing teenage driving accidents requires some measure of dedication, awareness and education.
- Improve driving skills. A driver’s license does not mean drivers have learned all there is to know about driving. In fact, newly licensed drivers still have a lot to learn. Experience only comes with time and practice, and every day presents teen drivers with a new opportunity to expand their skills.
- Watch the speed limit. Speeding makes it more difficult to control a vehicle. Obey the speed limit, and recognize speed limits are suggestions during ideal driving conditions. When driving in inclement weather, reduce speed, even if that means driving below the speed limit.
- Reduce distractions. When driving, reduce distractions inside of the car. This includes eating or talking on the phone while driving. It also means fiddling with the radio or checking social media. The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance -United States, 2015 states that 42 percent of high school students who drive report texting or emailing while driving. Texting while driving creates conditions similar to drinking or using drugs while behind the wheel.
- Avoid peer passengers. Teens should avoid having other teens or younger children as passengers in their first year as licensed drivers. Other kids can be an added source of distraction inside of the vehicle and may goad drivers into behaviors they would otherwise avoid. Wait until you gain more experience behind the wheel before you start to hone your chauffeur skills.
- · Stick to daytime driving. Driving at night can make it much more difficult for drivers to see their surroundings and recognize potential hazards. Within the first few months of earning their licenses, teenagers should drive only during the daytime and log plenty of practice hours driving at night accompanied by an adult until they feel more confident.
Teen drivers are at a higher risk of accidents than more experienced motorists. But certain strategies can help reduce that risk.