First Month Of Driving Riskiest For Teens, AAA Says

October 17, 2011

Highlighting the importance of continuing parental involvement in teens’ transition to solo driving, a new study from the AAA Traffic Safety Foundation finds that teens are 50 percent more likely to crash during their first month of unsupervised driving than after a year’s worth of driving experience.

Not only that, but teens are twice as likely to crash during their first month of driving as they are after two years experience.

A related study used in-vehicle cameras to monitor teens when they were learning to drive with their parents in the car and then during six months of licensed driving without parents in the car.

The AAA Foundation commissioned the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center to conduct both studies. Findings pertain to the crash rates of newly licensed drivers in North Carolina from January 1, 2001 to December 31, 2008.

Analysis of crash rate findings

Three common mistakes were attributable to the crash rates of new drivers: failure to reduce speed, inattention, and failure to yield. Together, these mistakes accounted for 57 percent of the crashes in which teens were at least partly at fault during their first month of licensed driving.

Delving deeper into the specific types of crashes, researchers found that some occurred at relatively high rates of speed, but then declined with more driving experience. Crashes during left-hand turns, for example, were common with initial teen driving, but declined almost immediately. Researchers concluded that the initial high rate and subsequent steep decline in some type of crashes appeared to reflect initial teen inexperience followed by rapid learning. Crash types that decline more slowly, say the researchers, appear to be due to the failure to master certain driving skills, and not from a lack of understanding.

In-camera study findings

Parents may be particularly interested the in-camera videos captured during the second study. Then again, maybe not, although it could be disturbing enough that parents would make it a point to sit down and talk with their teen about appropriate driving behavior. Researchers say that while most of the footage captured was uneventful, some recorded instances of near misses.

The conclusion by researchers was that these close calls were again likely due to the teen drivers’ inexperience, although a few highlighted other teen behavior that is potentially distracting or dangerous: texting, running red lights, and horseplay with passengers.

Remember, these in-camera videos are the ones taken when teens were driving without parents in the car. Often, they have other teens or siblings with them and the kind of behavior captured on camera when parents weren't around was, well, enough to make parents cringe. Such as? Running a stop sign and making a left-hand turn without even slowing down, laughing about near-misses, talking or texting and narrowly missing colliding with another car, speeding... you get the idea.

What parents can do

Parents can help teens continue to improve on their driving skills and experience with the following suggestions from the AAA:

Practice, practice, and practice some more. Just because your teen has his or her license doesn’t mean they’re ready for full-time solo driving. Continue to practice together by accompanying your teen so that the basic skills can be mastered. Practice during different types of road and weather conditions such as heavy traffic, rural roads, snow and rainy conditions.

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