Study: Teen Drivers Get More Dangerous After Getting Their License

By: Kyle Magin July 26, 2018
A recent study shows teens drive more safely with their parents in the car than when they go out on their own for the first year.
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A teen’s chances of causing a car crash are high in their first few months of holding a license, a new report released in July shows.

Teenagers are eight times more likely to have a near miss or a collision with another vehicle in their first three months of driving alone, as opposed to the last three months of driving with an adult while holding a driver’s permit.

Virginia Tech University and the National Institutes for Health (NIH) conducted the study, using 90 teen and 131 parent participants from Virginia.

The researchers monitored their subjects from the time they received a learner’s permit to the end of their first year with a driver’s license. Each car was equipped with dashcams observing both the road and the driver, as well as software to record speed and braking.

The study’s detailed reporting reveals that teens are more likely to accelerate too quickly, brake too abruptly, and turn too severely, leading to near-misses and accidents.

“During the learner’s permit period, parents are present, so there are some skills that teenagers cannot learn until they are on their own,” said lead study author Pnina Gershon, Ph.D. “We need a better understanding of how to help teenagers learn safe driving skills when parents or other adults are not present.”

Risky driving behaviors decreased over the first year of solo driving, though crashes did not. Additionally, the authors found that teens drive more safely than adults at night or during bad weather, but with more risk during the day and clear conditions.

“Given the abrupt increase in driving risks when teenagers start to drive independently, our findings suggest that they may benefit from a more gradual decrease in adult supervision during the first few months of driving alone,” said study co-author Bruce Simons-Morton, a senior investigator at the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

The report follows an April study released by the NIH detailing how car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens between 14 and 19. While both studies are recent, some states implemented law changes aimed at drawing out a teen’s learning period over a decade ago.

In 2008, Illinois lawmakers passed legislation tripling the amount of time between a teen’s learner’s permit and first full driver’s license. By 2017, the program had chopped the state’s total number of teen driver deaths in half, to 76 from a peak of 155 in 2007.

Going forward, the NIH report’s authors say they plan to study factors that led to safer outcomes for teen drivers.

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