Contrary to the stereotype, most car crashes involving teen drivers are due to basic driving mistakes, not thrill seeking, according to a new study by The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance Cos.
The study, which analyzed a federal database of more than 800 crashes involving teen drivers, identified common errors that often are the last in a chain of events leading to a crash. Three quarters of crashes were due to a critical teen driver error with three common mistakes accounting for almost half of all serious crashes, the study found. Among the crashes with a teen driver error:
• 21 percent were due to lack of scanning to detect and respond to hazards;
• 21 percent were due to going too fast for road conditions, such as driving too fast to negotiate a curve
• and 20 percent were due to a distraction inside or outside the car
Teen drivers are involved in fatal crashes at four times the rate of adults, one reason why car insurance rates are high for young drivers.
Teen driving behaviors
Environmental conditions, such as poor weather, vehicle malfunction, aggressive driving, or physical impairments such as drowsy driving, were not primary factors in most crashes, according to the study's findings, which were published in the journal, Accident Analysis and Prevention.
"This study helps dispel the myth that most teen crashes are due to aggressive driving or thrill-seeking," lead author Allison Curry said in a statement. "Promoting safe driving skills is as important as preventing problem behaviors."
Policies to address distractions, such as laws limiting the number of peer passengers and prohibiting cell phone use by teen drivers, help but address only part of the problem, according to study coauthor Dennis Durbin.
"Many crashes will still occur due to the inability of teen drivers to detect and respond to a hazard in time," he said in a statement. "Formal teen driver training and parent-teen practice drives should focus on building scanning and hazard awareness skills."
Scanning involves observing the surroundings far ahead of the vehicle and side-to-side, not just immediately in front of the hood, a skill experienced drivers develop over time. The study authors note that developing effective ways to teach this skill sooner in the learning-to-drive process could reduce teen crash risk. Pilot tests of such training have shown promise in increasing hazard detection and response skills among novice drivers, they said.