Turning the Spotlight on the Learner Phase of Driving

June 23, 2014

I joined CIRP@CHOP in 2008 with the goal of developing an evidence-based intervention for young drivers and their parents. In reviewing the available literature it was clear that young people gained most of their driving experience during the first few months of independent driving instead of when they had a learner’s permit. Interestingly, although Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) provisions in most states included parent-supervised practice, there was inconclusive evidence about how to use this time effectively. Based upon my knowledge of behavioral science and applied developmental psychology, I believed that parent-supervised practice could be enhanced to provide teenagers with the needed skills and experience to be safer behind the wheel.  

At the time, there was not much support for studying the learner period of GDL, as many prior evaluations of interventions for parent supervisors had failed to demonstrate a positive effect on young drivers with learner’s permits. Nevertheless, my colleagues and I wanted to bring the spotlight back to the learner phase. With the generous support of State Farm Mutual Insurance Company (State Farm®) and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, we were able to focus on gathering evidence to help answer the question, “How can we help parent supervisors make the most of their practice time with their teenagers?”

As a first step, we conducted extensive formative research with young drivers and their parent supervisors to identify modifiable factors associated with the quantity, quality, and variety of practice driving. We believed that if we could identify these factors, we could then develop and test parent-directed intervention materials to enhance the practice driving experience and promote young drivers’ skill acquisition prior to licensure. The result is the TeenDrivingPlan (TDP), an engaging, interactive evidence-based program created to help parents conduct more effective supervised driving practice. We then subjected the TDP to a randomized, controlled trial of young drivers and their parent supervisors.

Initial evidence indicates that TDP improves the driving performance of pre-licensed teenagers by increasing the variety of supervised practice. We need more rigorously tested interventions like it to make the learner period more effective. Our future research will explore ways to enhance TDP’s effect on young driver performance, how to integrate TDP with other evidence-based interventions targeting additional risk and protective factors for young driver safety, and how to best connect families with the TDP without compromising implementation fidelity.

We hope these findings encourage teen driver safety stakeholders to re-focus their efforts on the learner period. I look forward to fine-tuning TDP to reach more families from all walks of life. Developing new partnerships with like-minded researchers and organizations is a crucial next step.

TDP is just the latest example of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP’s) Research-to-Action-to-Impact approach to reducing the burden of injuries on children and their families.

Click here to read the press release