Researchers: Distraction Aside, Teens Need More Driver Training

April 11, 2011
U.S. lawmakers to get tougher on teen drivers

U.S. lawmakers to get tougher on teen drivers

For new drivers, there's no substitute for serious instruction, in the classroom, on the road, and even on the track. The reason? Safety experts have told us, anecdotally in the past, that one major factor in teen accidents is that a significant portion of accidents chalk up to inexperience, failure to anticipate, and a lack of understanding about reaction times.

Now, research backs that up and emphasizes that we need more instruction. As part of a partnership between The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm, researchers looked at 800 accidents, all involving teen drivers, and found several common causes. In three-quarters of the accidents, "critical teen driver error"—not specifically talking, texting, or distraction, but a simple lack of judgment capacity—was the cause.

Specifically, the errors were broken into several categories: 21 percent were due to lack of scanning for hazards; 21 percent were due to speed; and 20 percent were due to distraction, from either something inside or outside the vehicle.

Motor-vehicle crashes are the top cause of death for U.S. teens, with a fatal vehicle crash rate four times those age 25 to 69.

The full report and findings are being published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.

Surprisingly, the research found that environmental or vehicle issues—such as poor weather, vehicle malfunction, physical issues or impairments, or even aggressive driving—weren't significant root factors in most of the instances.

If the trends the researchers observed are true, even if we can get all teens to follow talking and texting rules, we'll still have a large number of accidents that factor to inexperience. Study co-author Dennis Durbin, MD, MSCE, suggests that graduated-licensing stipulations like limiting the number of underage passengers and placing greater limitations on cellphone use only address part of the problem. "Many crashes will still occur due to the inability of teen drivers to detect and respond to a hazard in time," he said in a release accompanying the study results. "Formal teen driver training and parent-teen practice drives should focus on building scanning and hazard awareness skills."

While scanning surroundings is a skill that drivers develop and hone over time, the researchers suggest that focusing on teaching this skill earlier would help reduce risk for young drivers. That and better teaching of general hazard-awareness skills are recommended.

Co-author Allison Curry, PhD emphasized that teaching driving skills is as important as keeping teens from certain behaviors or situations. "This study helps dispel the myth that most teen crashes are due to aggressive driving or thrill-seeking."


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