National Teen Driver Safety Week presents the ultimate opportunity to chat frankly with adolescents about one of today's most concerning problems: distraction and recklessness behind the wheel. Far too many teenagers fall victim to car crashes; research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points to motor vehicle accidents as the chief cause of death among adolescents.
Common Causes of Teenage Accidents
Even the best teenage drivers make mistakes behind the wheel, but certain issues are especially likely to cause accidents, including the following:
Drivers of all ages love to multitask behind the wheel rather than focus on the road, but this problem is particularly prevalent among teenagers. Texting (and, more recently, Snapchatting) behind the wheel is an especially concerning problem.
As experts from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration point out, in the time it takes to read or send a text, a car traveling at 55 miles per hour traverses the entire length of a football field. Sadly, teens occupy a constantly connected world in which even a brief car ride may feel too long to go without checking notifications.
Driving with Other Teens
Distractions come not only from mobile devices, but also from the presence of other teenagers. According to research from Texas A&M Transportation Institute, the total number of car accidents involving novice teenage drivers decreased significantly between 2002 and 2011, but statistics also point to an increased percentage of fatalities when accompanied by others. Researchers cite a link between this increase and the explosion of text messaging, although they have yet to establish proof of causation.
Drivers of all ages speed, but teenagers seem particularly inclined to drive above the posted limit. Driving instructors interviewed for Skills of Novice Teen Drivers reveal speeding as one of the top three mistakes young drivers make again and again — and that's when supervised. When driving alone or with friends, teens are even more apt to exceed the speed limit by ten miles per hour or more. Sadly, this leads to far too many fatalities; in a recent five-year span identified by AAA, over 4,200 of nearly 14,000 teenage motor vehicle deaths were attributed to speeding.
Why Teenagers Struggle Behind the Wheel
A variety of factors lead to the teenage driving issues outlined above. The following are a few of the top reasons why young drivers remain at risk whenever they take the wheel:
Teenagers face a sharp learning curve as they learn to drive. Be it driving a car or playing a piano, nobody perfects any skill immediately, especially when said skill involves operating a vehicle that weighs thousands of pounds. Basic mechanics require extensive practice, but that's just the beginning. Young drivers must also learn to decode often complex signals from other drivers. Road-based etiquette may seem simple to adults who have spent years behind the wheel, but it tends to baffle teenagers. Furthermore, weather conditions make driving difficult for even the most seasoned individuals. Florida drivers rarely have to deal with ice, but wind, heavy rain, and fog can all prove hazardous.
Unfortunately, many teens spend limited time in realistic driving situations before they're sent out on their own. In Florida, for example, teenagers must obtain fifty hours of driving experience before getting their license, including ten hours at night. While drivers can get a general feel for the road in this time, they may not emerge equipped with the full range of skills needed to avoid collisions.
Gaining any skill takes considerable work, but teenagers continue to struggle long after seemingly mastering such essentials as parallel parking. Many of their issues derive from their basic brain chemistry; the frontal cortex (which is responsible for critical thinking and impulse control) does not complete development until around age 25. Teenagers may understand the rules of the road and accurately tell right from wrong, but they cannot quell their impulses as well as their adult counterparts do.
Teenage driving has long been a point of concern, but solutions are available. Practice is key, of course, and parents can help simply by volunteering to sit in the passenger's seat more often as their teens practice essential skills. Select vehicles also offer Teen Driver mode, which allows parents to closely monitor teenagers' behavior and revoke driving privileges if necessary. Together, teens and parents can work to overcome the natural disadvantages of youth behind the wheel and make our roads safer.
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