This week is National Teen Driver Safety Week, and a number of safety organizations and agencies across the country are working to boost awareness and understanding of the specific dangers that teens face when they get behind the wheel. Year after year, more teenagers are involved in traffic crashes than any other group of people in the United States, and studies have shown that the most dangerous time for teens is in the weeks and months that they drive unsupervised after obtaining a license.
According to the AAA’s research, teen drivers are about 50 percent more likely to crash in their first month of unsupervised driving than they are after a full year of driving experience on their own. They are also almost twice as likely to crash in their first month as they are after two full years of experience.
Until now, no studies have been done that would help explain these upsetting patterns. But the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety, a nonprofit research and educational organization, sought to change that. The organization conducted two separate studies that aimed to shed light on why these serious safety risks persist among teen drivers.
One of the studies, Measuring Changes in Teenage Driver Crash Characteristics During the Early Months of Driving, found that there are a few specific driving skills that parents and driving instructors can do a better job of helping teen motorists develop before they begin driving on their own. According to AAA, three common mistakes — failure to reduce speed, inattention, and failure to yield — accounted for 57 percent of all the crashes for which teens were at least partially responsible in their first month of unsupervised driving.
Researchers also found that the rate of some types of crashes declined quickly with experience while the rate of other crash types declined more slowly. The types of crashes that were more persistent “appeared to result not from lack of understanding, but from failure to master certain driving skills,” the AAA said.
The other study, Transition to Unsupervised Driving, used in-car video surveillance to analyze teen driving behavior during the first six months of unsupervised driving and compared it to data collected from an earlier phase of the study that monitored the same teens learning to drive under parental supervision. According to the AAA, “while the vast majority of driving caught on camera was uneventful and only a small number of deliberate risk-taking behaviors were observed, the study did reflect that the teens’ behavior shifted when their parents were not present.”
“For example, the vast majority of ‘close calls’ involved judgment errors that seemed to indicate inexperience and failure to anticipate changes in the traffic environment,” the AAA reported.
The AAA said that this latest research should encourage parents to “stay involved in the learning process even after the law allows teens to drive without a parent in the car.”