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The Argument in Favor of Teen Driving Contracts
Car accidents are the leading cause of death for American teenagers. Sixty-one percent of teen passengers are killed while riding with a teen driver. In response to these two statements, most US states and territories have adopted GDL laws. GDL is the acronym for Graduated Driver Licensing. While GDL does not guarantee that your teen will avoid being cited or injured in a crash, there are ways to help gauge a teen’s maturity and experience that can increase his safety.
GDL laws have about 5 components, but those components are based on a minimum requirement but do does not provide adequate preparation for any teenage driver.
Adolescent drivers are perfectly capable of operating the vehicle but greatly disadvantaged by the slow development of pre-frontal cortex maturation skills!
The GDL framework on which to build the skills of the driver but have nothing to do with the emotional maturity of a young driver such as judgment, logical reason and decision making. These skills are necessary for driving and all develop in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain; the part of the brain that does not begin to develop in a person until the age of 12-13 and does not reach full maturity until around the mid-late 20s.
Tools to measure prefrontal cortex maturation are the missing component in GDL laws, but the most essential information to know and understand for both parent and adolescent.
Why Parental Involvement Is Important
Parents hold the key to teen driver safety! Research from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) shows that when parents don’t limit when, where and how often a teen can drive, traffic violations and teen car accidents increase. Research also shows that although parents are in a prime position to influence teenagers’ driving behaviors, many parents are less involved than they could be.
According to a recent NICHD study, researchers found that teaching parents how to limit their teen’s driving greatly reduces the teen’s chances of risky driving behavior that could lead to crashes. Whenever young people are learning a new skill, it is always advisable for parent(s)/guardian(s) to actively support and encourage the young person’s progress. Research concludes that the key to increased safety in families requires parental awareness and involvement. It is essential parents have an immediate response plan to a teenager’s first violation or crash.
Children observe parents from the day they are born. Much of their attitude-in life and behind the wheel-is established early in their lives through the behaviors of their parents. Parental modeling of seat belt use and safe, legal and courteous driving is essential.
Adolescence can be a confusing time when many things, ideas and opinions are being developed. Extreme emotions are as damaging as any chemical while driving. Working through anxious situations of the day, frustrations or disappointments while driving is dangerous because it draws attention away from the task at hand.
We encourage parents to enroll their teenager in a professional driving school or the School Driver Education don’t be tricked into believing that the child is an experienced driver simply by attending the class. Continued practice after the course is essential.
Connecting the dots between Brain Development and Driving for Teens
The studies of the American Medical Association (AMA) show that the pre-frontal cortex of the brain begins to function in a person around the age of 12-13 years and reaches full maturity near the mid-to-late 20s. Parents sometimes ask teenagers, “Why would you do something like that?” and a teenager replies, “I don’t know!” Guess what? They don’t know because the immature brain can send some confusing messages sometimes.
The PBS series THE SECRET LIFE OF THE BRAIN describes the type of activities chosen by teenagers determines how the pre-frontal cortex develops. If a chemical is introduced during these formative years, it will inhibit the development of the pre-frontal cortex. If teenagers choose healthy activities and build new skills during this period, the brain develops ways to retain the information and remember how to learn.
Ways to measure developmental maturity:
- Always wear safety equipment correctly when going faster than running or walking (properly positioned, secured and used with or without parental control)
- Taking responsibility for school homework and assignments without being reminded
- Successfully maintaining agreements
- Money management and organizational skills
- Offering to help with homework and projects without being asked
- Increased collaboration
Caution: Work with youth with behavioral problems in a safe and supervised environment but delay licensing until the problems are well managed.
In this article let’s learn how to use the Driving Log component of the GDL effectively.
The Importance of Keeping an Precisely Driving Protocol
Most GDL laws require documentation of the driving practice hours. While this documentation is a requirement, the importance of the goal is useful to understand.
First: The hours of driving practice are only valid for skill development. Once understood, teenagers are very good at operating a vehicle but have nothing to do with developing good driving habits.
To build a ‘habit’ a sequence of actions must be correctly repeated at least 21 times in a row.
Second: Noting the time of day, traffic and weather conditions under which driving practice takes place is essential to keep track of variation in driving conditions.
For example – if the teenager has never driven in heavy traffic in difficult weather, a teenager does NOT know how to drive under those conditions.
Tip: Anytime it looks like the weather may be less than desirable driving conditions, take time to check on the teen’s driving.
Periodically check the driving schedule to see when a weather-related driving lesson has taken place. If the record shows that the lesson occurred at the early control time, relying on the adolescent’s ability to remember the lesson would be misguided, especially if he/she had little or no recent driving experience under the circumstance.
Be careful: Driving at night requires additional skill. 55% of teen crashes happen on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Developing a good daytime teen driver and putting off SOLO night driving for the first two years of holding a license is a great choice!
Can you guess how many skills a driver uses while behind the wheel? About 1,500! These skills include: observation, perception, interpretation and anticipation – all happening in the pre-frontal cortex! Teenagers are capable of operating a vehicle, but DISADVANTAGED simply because of the way the human brain develops.
GDL is only effective if parents understand, support and know how to implement it, and if young people have well-practiced driving skills, experience, maturity and highly developed personal integrity.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Recommends:
200 hours or 6000 miles of driving practice before licensing a teenager, plus an additional 500 miles of supervised driving after licensing to be recorded by the teenager before being granted the privilege as a primary driver. It takes 5-7 years to become proficient.
Understand the Basics Then Go Beyond the Legal Requirements of GDL-Consider just because something is legal does not make it SAFE!
Next: Are Technology Devices Valuable for Monitoring Teen Driving Behavior?
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