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Driving simulator predicts riskiest teen drivers

  • Scott LaMar
Male instructor teaching teenager to drive automobile, safety rules, close-up

Male instructor teaching teenager to drive automobile, safety rules, close-up

Aired; November 7th, 2023.


Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States. Teen crash rates are nearly four times higher than those of adult drivers. Carrying passengers, particularly other teens, greatly increases crash risk for teen drivers. Those statistics are from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What can be done to make young people better and safer drivers and make the roads safer for everyone?

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has done research on teen drivers using a driving simulator.

Cognitive neuroscientist Liz Walshe was the study’s lead author and joined us on The Spark Tuesday.

Walshe was asked what scenarios presented the biggest challenges for the teen drivers on the simulator,”Some of them are in urban or more rural, like suburban settings. There’s some that are hazard zones where there might be construction going on. There’s some scenarios where an ambulance comes up and we have some scenarios where a hazard suddenly appears in the road. And so there is one where there’s a children’s playground on the side of the road. There’s a ball that comes tumbling out of the playground. And that seems to be a challenging scenario. We didn’t in this study specifically compare the different scenarios, but having looked at this drive in a number of different studies, we do see that that’s a sudden hazard situation that can be difficult for some teens to handle if they’re not doing the right things, coming up to that environment and thinking I should slow down or I should be scouting for children or for other things.”

Walshe added speeding, tailgating and lane control as three other areas many of the young drivers struggled with.

How does Walshe envision the research and the stimulator being used?,”I think the path we really see going forward is to say we know there are very specific skill deficits that some young drivers still have even after they get their licenses. And so we really need to intervene early. The highest lifetime risk of being in a crash is in the first few months after you get your license. So that’s a critical period where we could definitely be doing better and doing more to reduce our crash risk. So I think we can use this tool to say these are the skills we need to focus interventions on, and these are the specific teens who need them because they’re at higher risk than others. And I think also just reassessing the kind of the value of more formalized driver training as well. And that’s coming from some of our other work that we’ve done in Ohio. But it does seem to be a trend about states that have requirements for behind the wheel training with an instructor, that there can be a lower crash risk for young drivers. So getting sufficient training and experience before you get your license might overcome the fact that you’re young and your brain is still developing and you have these other risk factors too.”


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