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Do Teens Need More Practice Before Independent Driving?

I found this story the other day and thought it was spot on. I remember when I was learning how to drive, I took a course during high school that went an entire nine weeks learning how to drive. I am very glad that I took that course so that when I turned sixteen, I had a little bit of experience in driving, which is more than many actually have.

Recently, there was a study that found approximately four in 10 newly licensed teen drivers "crashed" in a simulated driving test, suggesting that many adolescents do not have the skills they need to stay safe on the road. The simulated driving assessment (SDA) included a 35-minute "drive" using 22 variations of the most common situations that often cause teens to crash.

Catherine McDonald, the study's lead author, and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in Philadelphia, found during the test, 42.9 percent of teens within three months of licensure, and 29.4 percent of experienced adult drivers had at least one simulated collision and for every additional error in the simulation, the risk for crashing or running off the road in the simulator increased 8 percent. Findings from the study were published recently online in the journal Injury Prevention.

Motor vehicle crashes remain the number one cause of death among teens, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly seven teens between 16 and 19 die every day in the United States from motor vehicle accidents, the CDC says.

McDonald found newly licensed teens showed mastery of basic skills, such as using turn signals but more advanced driving behaviors, such as braking in hazardous situations and anticipating and responding to hazards were challenging. She went on to say she found it worrisome that the participants in our study were all licensed drivers yet many had inadequate driving skills, even without common distractions like texting and peer passengers.

In an attempt to make new drivers safer, most states have implemented graduated driver licensing. Graduated driver licensing includes laws that place restrictions on newly licensed drivers regarding things such as how many passengers they can have in the vehicle and limitations for driving at night, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). The restrictions are gradually lifted.

McDonald said parents can also play an important role in helping their young drivers develop more advanced skills. This requires parents to think about the skills they have developed over time.

"Adults tend to go into 'autopilot' mode and they forget what is behind the skills that prevent crashing," McDonald said. "For instance, saying 'slow down' to teens is insufficient. Parents need to point out when and how to ease up on the gas pedal and how to apply the brake pedal for situations where they need to slow down or stop.

"Parents need to coach their teens to manage their speed, scan for hazards, set a safe following distance at different speeds, and scan while making left hand turns. It's also important to coach on how to shut out distractions and focus on driving tasks," she said.

Independent driving is an important step for many teens, McDonald said. Having access to a car helps them get to school, participate in extracurricular activities, have a job and further their independence.

But safety also needs to be a consideration. "We want to help teens and their families achieve and maintain independent mobility in the safest way possible," she said.


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