Teen Driving

Your teen may have recently passed her state driver’s license test, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to safely hit the open road. In fact, teens’ risk of having a car crash is highest immediately after they get their license. And it stays high for the first two to three years.

Motor vehicle crashes remain the number one cause of death for teens in the U.S. That’s why researchers at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Center for Injury Research and Prevention are studying the causes behind crashes and how to prevent them. They have found that high-quality parent-supervised driving practice is crucial because one reason why teens crash is inexperience behind the wheel.

“For teens to become safe, competent drivers, they need to develop critical driving skills and practice them in a range of driving environments and conditions. Passing the on-road test — which tests the basic operation of a vehicle — does not mean that new drivers have the skills to avoid crashes," says Flaura Winston, MD, PhD, founder and scientific director for the Center for Injury Research and Prevention. “To develop these skills, they need to practice, practice, and then practice some more with a parent or other responsible adult in the passenger seat.”

Developing Driving Skills

Based on years of research, Dr. Winston and her team created the TeenDrivingPlan Practice Guide to help parents effectively plan and structure supervised practice drives during the learner’s permit period. This free online resource is organized by driving environment and includes specific driving goals for each environment, as well as 54 short video tutorials, a Goal Guide, and a Logging and Rating Tool to keep parent-supervised driving lesson plans on track.

Dr. Winston and her team have also created a validated simulation technology called Ready-Assess™ that assesses a driver’s skills to prevent crashing. Available through a CHOP spin-out company called Diagnostic Driving, Inc., Ready-Assess™ exposes a driver to the most common pre-crash scenarios under safe simulated conditions. Currently being piloted in Ohio and Delaware licensing centers as a pre-screen to the on-road exam, it provides real-time feedback to the driver and specific skills that need more practice.

“Our vision for spinning out this technology from CHOP is to take it out of the research lab and into common use so it can benefit anyone who wants to learn how to drive safely and develop the skills to avoid crashes,” says Dr. Winston. “We hope all teens will one day be able to test their skills and learn to drive using scientifically-validated tools like Ready-Assess.™”

Until then, says Dr. Winston, be sure to provide your teen with lots of supervised practice driving hours and to stress the following to tackle the three big reasons why teen drivers crash: not anticipating and scanning for hazards, poor speed management, and being distracted:

  • “Scan” the road while driving. Often, a teen will look straight ahead while driving instead of scanning further ahead and to the sides of the car. This explains why a common type of crash for teens involves running off the road. “If you’re only looking straight ahead a few feet, even a curve is going to look straight,” says Dr. Winston. To help your teen learn to keep an eye not just on the car and road in front of them, but also on what’s going on all around — look for crosswalks and hidden driveways.
  • Develop speed management. A new driver needs to be taught how to manage his speed depending on traffic and road conditions and how to keep a safe distance from other vehicles. This means teaching your teen how to manipulate the brake and accelerator properly to reduce speed, notes Dr. Winston: “Instead of saying, ‘slow down’ during a practice drive,’ say, ‘We’re approaching an intersection, so it’s time to ease up on the gas pedal, which will slow us down.’ ”
  • Drive mindfully. We all know that multitasking — texting, talking on the phone, playing with the radio — is dangerous. But Dr. Winston points out that distracted driving doesn’t have to involve technology. “If your brain is thinking about anything other than driving, it’s multitasking, which can make it difficult to react during a potential crash.” Through words and your actions, teach young drivers to put electronics in the glove compartment, put on their seat belt, and take a deep breath each time they sit behind the wheel. They should also think about the responsibility of driving, about where they’re going, and set aside any distracting thought — all before turning the key.
  • Stay involved. According to CHOP research, parents matter when it comes to teen driver safety. Parents can cut their teens’ crash risk in half by staying involved, setting rules, and being supportive. Dr. Winston also says parents should keep in mind that driving is a privilege, not a rite of passage. Only you know for sure when your child is ready to drive alone without parent supervision. Setting house rules around driving, with Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws as a guide, is very important. GDL programs are proven to be the most effective strategy to reduce teen driver-related crashes. They provide a stepped approach to gradually increasing driving privileges as a new driver gains experience in less risky conditions.

For more tips on teaching your teen to drive safely and how to supervise your child during driving practice, visit the TeenDriverSource website.