How can we keep our kids safe as they’re learning to drive?
Some think the main problem is teenage irresponsibility, said Robert D. Foss, the director emeritus of the Center for the Study of Young Drivers at the Highway Safety Research Center of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“That’s wrong,” he said. “There certainly are more issues with impulsivity than among adults, but that’s a matter of degree.” The real problem is lack of experience, and the only way to get to the other side is to have teenagers do more driving.
Johnathon Ehsani, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health Center for Injury Research and Policy, described a project in which 90 families in Virginia agreed to have their cars outfitted with video cameras and microphones, along with other data recorders, from the time the teenagers got their learner’s permits until a year after they got their licenses.
About half of the new drivers did indeed crash in that first year, mostly with minor accidents, and the data, soon to be published, let the researchers look at the question of what factors were associated with a lower crash rate during the first year of driving.
“I personally had all my eggs in the parents-instruction basket,” Dr. Ehsani said. The researchers carefully coded all the things that parents and adolescents had said to one another. “Turns out none of that matters,” Dr. Ehsani said. “What matters was the extent to which teens practiced under multiple diverse road conditions.”
Parents should encourage and supervise practice driving in more varied environments, and not fall into the habit of accumulating practice hours just “driving in routine conditions to places they already know,” Dr. Ehsani said. After all, the minute teenagers get their licenses, he said, they start driving to new places, establishing their independence and taking advantage of their new ability.
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