Inside The Minds of Teen Drivers
Remember how great it felt to be, say, 17, cruising in a car with your buddies on a sunny spring day, the windows rolled down and the radio blasting?
And aren't you sometimes kind of surprised that you lived to tell the tale?
I know I am. And now that my own kids are fast approaching driving age, I'd do anything to keep them from being as blithely clueless as I was about the enormous risks associated with driving -- and about their own limited capacity to manage those risks.
It's hard to get inside a teen's head and figure out what they think about driving (or anything else, for that matter). But in an effort to find ways to better communicate information about the things that make driving so risky for youthful drivers and their passengers, researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance did just that.
In a study published in the May issue of Pediatrics, 5,665 kids in grades 10-12 were asked to rate the riskiness of such behaviors as drinking, having unruly passengers, using cellphones and text messaging, and speeding, all of which we grownups know can pose grave risks to all drivers, including teens. The kids also were asked how often they'd witnessed such behaviors.
While many of the the teen respondents ranked lack of experience as a middling risk factor, they overwhelmingly reported that they'd rarely seen a teen driver who was inexperienced. The researchers note that teens likely equate "experience" with the mere fact of having acquired a license.
According to the teens, talking on a cellphone while driving wasn't all that risky, but text messaging was extremely risky, ranking right up there with racing other cars.
Having adolescent passengers barely registered as risky, but when those passengers start "acting wild," they become very risky indeed.
Nearly all the teens surveyed recognized drinking and driving as a very high-risk proposition, but very few reported having seen anyone drink and drive.
And while 70 percent of the teens said they wore seat belts, seat belt use ranked only at about the middle of the list of factors that make a big difference in driving safety.
Add to this research is the emerging brain imaging science that Laura Sessions Stepp will be writing about in a Health section article tomorrow. Turns out that our brains -- and particularly the parts associated with reasoning -- do not fully mature until we are in our mid-20s, making teenagers more vulnerable to impulsive decision making.
It's springtime once again. Time for teens to drive to the prom, to graduation parties, or just out with their buddies. Maybe now's a good time to ask our kids what they think about risky driving behaviors -- and to try to steer them toward mature ways to handle them.
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