Teens at Risk Due to Inexperience and Brain Development

LIBERTY, October 8, 2013 - Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death for teens. Statistics show that teens are most likely to have a crash during the first six months after getting their license, which is primarily due to their inexperience. A new study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) reports that drivers ages 15 to 17 years old are not only at a disadvantage due to their lack of experience but also due to the incomplete development of the prefrontal cortex of the brain – the part of the brain that helps weigh the consequences of risky behavior. According to the study’s author, Russell Henk, this is the last part of the brain to develop.

TTI also reports that teens are eight times more likely to be in a fatal crash when they are carrying two or more teen passengers. The Texas Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) law is designed to limit the number of teen passengers that can legally ride with a novice driver. The GDL provides parents with the controls to help keep their teen drivers safe. However, many parents are not aware of the provisions of this law, which are divided into two phases. During phase one, the teen driver must always be accompanied by a person at least 21 years of age. During phase two, teens cannot operate a motor vehicle with more than one passenger who is younger than 21 unless the additional passengers are also family members. Driving is prohibited between midnight and 5 a.m., unless the teen is driving to attend work or a school-related activity, or responding to an emergency situation. Cell phone use is also prohibited during this second phase. Making sure your teen follows the GDL law can help get a teen safely through the most critical time when driver inexperience can lead to crashes.

This year’s campaign puts the emphasis on both teens and parents working together to make safe new drivers. Research shows that parents play an important role in increasing their teen’s driving skills, as they have the greatest influence over their teen’s behavior. In fact, leading experts believe parents play a key role in preventing teen car crashes and deaths. Teens with parents who set rules, monitor their driving, and are supportive are half as likely to crash and twice as likely to use seat belts as teens with less involved parents. Parents can help by talking with their teens about safe driving practices. Spending as much time driving with your teen in many different driving situations can significantly impact your teen’s future driving practices.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Agent, Alexis Cordova, reminds parents to take advantage of the National Teen Driver Safety Week to talk to their teens about staying safe on the road. Follow these tips to keep teens driving safely:

Practice driving with your teen as often as possible.

  • Discuss your rules of the road, and create a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement
  • Model good driving behavior for your teen by always using seat belts and never using a cell phone while driving.
  • Share your rules with other parents and teens.

For more information on National Teen Driver Safety Week, go to the following websites:

TeenDriverSource at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , and

State Farm Insurance to download A Handbook for Parents .


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