Research Study Analyzes Teen Car Crashes
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is a frequent co-sponsor of research about many childhood safety issues. Since teen drivers are involved in fatal crashes at four times the rate of adults, driving safety is one topic of particular concern for their researchers.
In mid-April they released the findings from a study of 800 car crashes which all involved at least one teenage driver. The study found that in those 800 crashes, seventy-five percent were caused by a critical teen driving error. Saying it this way is perhaps not scientific, but it is startling: “600 crashes could have been prevented if those teens had better-established driving skills.”
In fact, just three common errors were responsible for nearly half of the serious crashes.
- 21% happened because of lack of scanning.
- 21% happened because of excessive speed for road conditions.
- 20% happened because of distraction.
The purpose of research in this arena is of course, to discover opportunities to keep teen drivers safer and prevent unnecessary tragedies. It seems clear that the findings from this study support our message about the power of parents for teens learning to drive.
Lack of scanning
The research study authors note that scanning is a higher-level skill which needs time to develop. That correlates precisely with Mike Pehl’s insistence that teens need as much practice time as possible with their parent in the passenger seat. In our “Roadworthy” DVD, Mike teaches how to help your teen understand the importance of scanning. His explanations about intersections, the shoulder area of roads, and how to recognize the level of risk from approaching vehicles, are critically important. A teenager who has gotten plenty of practice time with a parent who knows how to explain those hazards, will be a driver who has the established habit of scanning properly. “Experience, experience, experience,” as Mike says, is the key.
Excessive Speed for Road Conditions
This error was not simply a case of a lot of teenagers pretending to be at the Daytona 500. Driving too fast to successfully navigate a curve, or too fast to respond to others, are the kinds of speed-related errors cited in the study.
Once again, these fall into the category of mistakes that are much less likely to be made by a teenager who has had enough practice time in the wide variety of locations & situations recommended by Mike. Taking a curve too fast is a mistake that parents can notice when riding with their learner’s-permit driver, and that gives them the chance to help their teen correct their perception of what is safe, before it becomes a potentially fatal error. Teen drivers do not have an established “feel” for how-fast-is-too-fast when they are just starting to drive, so the coaching from their parents in that early stage is very important. As Mike says, “teach the good habits now.” Learning the hard way is not a good plan.
Distracted driving is a hot topic right now, and this research study did conclude that being distracted by something inside (or outside!) of the vehicle, was one of the three primary causes for the 800 crashes that were studied.
It is certainly a significant risk, but it’s interesting to notice the proportion of the statistics; all three errors are almost equally weighted in the study. Public perception right now is much more focussed on distracted driving than the other two fundamental errors, however, and there can be danger in concentrating so much on one issue that you ignore others. Mike Pehl’s advice related to phones is to shut them off when you’re in the car, but beyond that he has a much broader understanding of distractions; we all have them. We listen to the radio, we change the heat controls to defrost, we talk to our children; all of those are distractions and most of them are not going away whether we are adult drivers or novice drivers. Keeping your attention on driving when you are behind the wheel, is a habit that can be nurtured in young drivers when their parents are observing from the passenger seat. And the ability to monitor distractions both inside and outside of the vehicle, while still maintaining control of the car in a safe manner, is again a mature skill that grows from adequate experience. Mike’s advice to let your teenager drive as much as possible “while you’re there to catch the mistakes” offers the opportunity to reduce crash rates from this causal factor as well as the others cited in this research.