The Risk of Taking Risks
By the time today’s teen turns 16, there’s an almost undeniable chance they’ve heard all the catchphrases about driving safety. Idioms like “Don’t Drink and Drive” and “Speed Kills” have been barked their way relentlessly since grade school. It’s not that teens aren’t well aware of the dangers associated with driving, but that they are innately hardwired to disregard the lessons they have learned.
This is the new train of thought emerging in the study of adolescent brain development, from doctors like Temple University professor Laurence Steinberg. According to Steinberg, research indicates that, because the brain systems involved in decision-making mature at different times, teens actually pursue risk-taking activities.
In the past, public opinion has been that if teens know about the perils of reckless, distracted and drunk driving that they won’t partake in these unsafe behaviors. It seems this train of thought is not holding up well against the test of time. Each year traffic crashes continue to be the leading cause of teenage fatalities, responsible for roughly 44% of all teen deaths in the U.S. Why do so many still die year after year despite the continual outcry from patents, educators, and the general public? Because even though teens understand intellectually that driving poorly can have a potentially fatal outcome, it’s not until about age 25 that parts of the brain involved in restraining impulses and risky behavior truly approach maturity.
Regulating Teen Driving Risk
At Drivers Ed Direct, we understand that, while extremely important, educating teens about traffic safety concerns and how to limit hazardous driving activities is only half the battle. Because teens have an inherent difficulty regulating their own risky behavior, they need more than just a few hours or drivers education before being handed the car keys. If teens have trouble managing risk, then they need someone to help set boundaries for them. Parents need to become more involved in helping limit the risks their teens make while providing advanced driver education during the first years of their child’s driving career.
Did you know that the first 500 miles a licensed teenager drives are the deadliest? That teens are 10 times more likely to be in a car crash during these first 500 miles than during any other time of their driving life? Just because a teen earns their license doesn’t mean they are ready to be let loose on the road. With the force from peer pressure combined with their instinctive desire to gamble behind the wheel, teens need their parent’s guidance more than ever. Consider some of the following courses of action to help mitigate your teen’s risky driving behavior:
• Even after licensed, continue to drive with your teen until they demonstrate consistently sound driving behavior. If they still make bad decisions, misjudge traffic situations, and ask “is it safe to go yet” while you are in the car, just think what will happen when you are not there, or worse yet, they have 4 friends in the car with them.
• Set your own ‘provisional restrictions’ on your son or daughter’s driving privilege. Taking distractions out of your teens hands will greatly increase their chance of staying collision free. A common recipe for traffic disaster: picking-up 4 friends, blasting the stereo, and holding a cell phone while driving.
• Talk to your friend’s parents and get everyone on the same page. It’s hard enough to monitor your own child’s driving behavior. What about when your child is a passenger in another inexperienced teen driver’s car?
• Educate. Educate. Educate. The more supervised time your son or daughter has behind the wheel, the better. Don’t have time to practice yourself? Get them more driving lessons, especially lessons targeted towards advanced defensive driving techniques. Each hour they are behind the wheel of a car with an adult is an hour they are not off by themselves taking risks.
Next time, before you hand over the car keys to your son or daughter, think back. Way back. Back to when you yourself were 16 years old and starting to drive. Did you ever take any risks or drive your car in a way that might be classified as brainless? Well, now you know, it was not so much a case of brain-less as it was a case of brain-still-under-development. So please, do your part to protect your child while their brain “fills out”.
Statistics and information courtesy of NSC.org and WebMD.com
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