What Helps a New Driver? | Teen Driving Safety Tips | Alive at 25 Texas

What Helps a New Driver? More Driving

How can we keep our kids safe as they’re learning to drive?

Some think the main problem is teenage irresponsibility, said Robert D. Foss, the director emeritus of the Center for the Study of Young Drivers at the Highway Safety Research Center of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“That’s wrong,” he said. “There certainly are more issues with impulsivity than among adults, but that’s a matter of degree.” The real problem is lack of experience, and the only way to get to the other side is to have teenagers do more driving.

Johnathon Ehsani, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health Center for Injury Research and Policy, described a project in which 90 families in Virginia agreed to have their cars outfitted with video cameras and microphones, along with other data recorders, from the time the teenagers got their learner’s permits until a year after they got their licenses.

About half of the new drivers did indeed crash in that first year, mostly with minor accidents, and the data, soon to be published, let the researchers look at the question of what factors were associated with a lower crash rate during the first year of driving.

“I personally had all my eggs in the parents-instruction basket,” Dr. Ehsani said. The researchers carefully coded all the things that parents and adolescents had said to one another. “Turns out none of that matters,” Dr. Ehsani said. “What matters was the extent to which teens practiced under multiple diverse road conditions.”

Parents should encourage and supervise practice driving in more varied environments, and not fall into the habit of accumulating practice hours just “driving in routine conditions to places they already know,” Dr. Ehsani said. After all, the minute teenagers get their licenses, he said, they start driving to new places, establishing their independence and taking advantage of their new ability.

“My suggestion to parents is that they think of the learner stage as an opportunity to build a library of experience in your teen’s head that they can draw on when they’re driving alone,” Dr. Ehsani said. “Take different routes, make some additional stops, mix it up a little.”

Bruce Simons-Morton, the associate director for prevention at the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, was the principal investigator on the project, called the Supervised Practice Naturalistic Driving Study. He said that when parents spend time in the car with their learner-permitted children, putting in the hours of practice that many states require, “they ride with their kids and see they get better and they don’t take a lot of risks and they learn to manage a vehicle fairly well, but as soon as they get licensed, parents stop riding with them, and their risk on average goes way up.”

During that practice driving, the parent is advising on any road decisions, anticipating problems, managing anything that has to be attended to inside the vehicle, but not necessarily pushing the teenager to think about how to solve all these problems without a parental co-pilot.

Dr. Ehsani said that teenagers acknowledge that they drive more slowly, with the music turned down, with their phones out of reach, when their parents are in the car with them, even after they get their licenses.

Thus, he said, “teens actually know how to drive safely,” when they’re being watched, and that is borne out by the efficacy of devices that send information home to parents about how the teenager is driving — but many families don’t choose to use those devices.

Teenagers are at higher risk for crashes for several years after they get their licenses. Boys are somewhat more likely to be risky drivers, and kids whose friends are risky drivers are more likely to drive that way themselves. There’s an adolescent style of driving with fast starts and sharp turns and late hard braking, which tends to decrease with age; some of this is lack of experience, but some may be experimenting with the car, and enjoying the fun of driving dramatically. Still, the typical teenage driver, Dr. Foss said, is driving carefully, and trying to follow the rules.

Mind you, all novice drivers of whatever age have higher crash rates, but for older people, the rates start lower and come down faster. And similarly, talking on cellphones or texting are risky behaviors for any of us as drivers, but the risk increases more sharply for adolescents. There are a variety of technological “fixes” out there that parents may want to consider, from apps to cellphone blocking technology, but no clear data yet about what helps, or what is most likely to be used. And of course, road safety depends not only on your own level of distraction, but also on the other drivers around you.

“Now cars are loaded with distracting technology,” Dr. Foss said. “Something that used to be as simple as picking a radio station now on some vehicles is infinitely more complicated and distracting that what I had on my 1954 Ford when I started driving, and we’re not going to ameliorate that by saying, now don’t be distracted, concentrate on the road.”

But those same newer cars also can come with important safety features, and since most teenagers will drive a car that already belongs to the family, it should be the safest possible car. “Parents tend to put the teen in the oldest car the family owns, which in general is the least safe car,” Dr. Foss said. Teenagers should be driving cars with every possible airbag, he said, and with electronic stability control, which prevents rollover crashes. Ideally, they should not be driving very small cars or compacts, which are not as protective.

If you do buy a car for your teenager, he said, think about safety; “That doesn’t mean go out and buy a brand new Volvo, it means if you’re going to buy a car for them, find one that’s as safe as possible for what you can afford.” The Institute for Highway Safety has a list, updated every year, of recommended safe cars for teenage drivers in different price ranges.

Source: The New York Times
Author: Perri Klass, M.D.

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