Are teens mentally prepared to drive? A study from NOYS

Are teens mentally prepared to drive? A study from NOYS

The National Organization for Youth Safety (NOYS) regularly update us with the latest activities for youth and road safety issues in North America. Being the leading organization for youth safety; campaigns activities and studies, NOYS have published an article focusing on the cognitive abilities of teenagers to drive. Are teens mentally prepared to drive?

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The teen brain - are they mentally prepared to drive?
An article by NOYS.

During the ages 12 and 25, the brain undergoes a massive reorganization. It undergoes extensive remodeling, resembling a network and wiring upgrade. Compared with adults, teens tend to make less use of brain regions that monitor performance, spot errors, plan, and stay focused - areas the adults seemed to bring online automatically. This lets the adults use a variety of brain resources and better resist temptation, while the teens used those areas less often and more readily gave in to the impulse - just as they're more likely to look away from the road to read a text message.

Seeking Sensation

Seeking sensation isn't necessarily impulsive. Teens might plan a sensation-seeking experience (a skydive or a fast drive) quite deliberately. Impulsivity generally drops throughout life, starting at about age 10, but this love of the thrill peaks at around age 15.

Also peaking during adolescence is risk-taking.

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"In the brain, one chemical called dopamine stimulates needs and desires for excitement, and one called serotonin alerts the body to risk and prompts defensive actions.  In the brains of teens, dopamine far outweighs serotonin.  As one doctor has explained, dopamine is "the gas" and serotonin is "the brakes," and teens are mostly gas and very little brake." 
- Tim Hollister - There Is No Such Thing As A Safe Teen Driver

In research labs, teens take more chances in controlled experiments involving everything from card games to simulated driving. And it shows in real life, where the period from roughly age 15 to 25 brings peaks in all sorts of risky ventures, with 14- to 17-year-olds being the biggest risk takers. This age group dies of incidents of almost every sort at high rates. Most long-term drug or alcohol abuse starts during adolescence, and even people who later drink responsibly often drink too much as teens. Especially in cultures where teenage driving is common, this takes a gory toll: In the U.S., car crashes are the number one killer of teens.

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Responding Strongly to Social Rewards

Teens take more risks not because they don't understand the dangers but because they weigh risk versus reward differently. In situations where risk can get them something they want, they value the reward more heavily than adults do. With a still-immature ability to control impulses and the intensity of dopamine-enhanced feel-good emotions, teenagers frequently have an imbalanced risk/reward context. That results in bad decisions and foolish mistakes. Often, their decisions seemed right at the time, even if later, after something bad happens, they understand exactly why it was a bad decision.

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A Challenge, but also an Opportunity

Many look at teens as the problems because of their irregular and irrational behavior and decision-making, but there is also an opportunity to reach teens during these difficult years. Understanding their own brain behavior at work may help the analytical side of their thinking put the brakes on dangerous driving.*

Parents can influence their teens in many ways and help deviate them from making dangerous decisions on the road. Parents should:

  • Start the conversation early and talk to their teens BEFORE they get their license.
  • Create a driving agreement that includes Graduated Driver's Licensing (GDL) laws but is not limited to GDL laws.
  • Make sure the vehicle their teen is driving is safe and that their teen understands how to maintain the vehicle.
  • Apply distracted driving prevention technology to the car/phone.
  • Monitor their teen's driving on a daily basis, especially during the first year.

Get dozens of FREE safe teen driving resources from reputable resources all from one place at the UnderYOURInfluence Parent Toolkit!

Sources Derived from:  
National Geographic 
Adolescent Brains are Works in Progress

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