4 Proven Strategies to Keep Teen Drivers Safe on the Road
Get help understanding the science behind their judgment.
While your teenager may look just like a smaller adult, there’s an important difference. Brain development progresses from back to front, so the last area to finish is the frontal lobe (responsible for cognitive thinking), and it only happens with time and experience—from age 16 to 26. Meanwhile, this life stage is marked by increased impulsivity and an inability of teenagers to see the consequences of their actions.
“They’re wired to test things in their environment,” says William Van Tassel, Ph.D., manager of Driver Training programs at the AAA national office. “That extends to driving. That’s one of the reasons we see the crash rates so high.”
So when coaching your teen drivers, these four approaches can improve learning:
1. One thing at a time
When teen drivers take the wheel with you in the car, don’t overwhelm them with information. “The bulk of the feedback is better delivered after the session, when the car is parked,” Van Tassel says.
2. Vary the conditions
Drive different roads at different times, such as at night or when it’s raining. Practice on twisty, rural roads—that’s where over half of the nation’s vehicular deaths occur, according to a 2017 report on rural traffic safety from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
3. Teach from your own experience
Researchers at the Highway Safety Center in North Carolina found that teen drivers were better able to identify good driving techniques when parents shared from their own experience. For example, “You should have started braking sooner,” is better said, “What I found works for me, is making sure I start slowing down before I enter a turn.”
4. Don’t depend exclusively on speeding alert apps and technology
Apps such as AAADrive in the AAA Mobile app send alerts when your teen is driving over a set limit. “But they shouldn’t replace parents’ deep engagement with their teen in the driving process,” Van Tassel says.
It’s one of the most exciting times in your teenager’s life, bringing a mix of freedom and responsibility. And by understanding how teen drivers learn, you can help them develop a life-long love of the road.