Understanding Teens' Driving Skill Deficits

September 9, 2013

After six hours of behind-the-wheel driver’s ed training and a full year of parent-supervised driving instruction, my daughter, Amanda, excitedly earned her probationary license in late August--just in time for school and her senior year. Like many parents my husband and I tried our best to be supportive and calm throughout her driving journey, but sometimes it wasn’t easy.

Too many times we would press down on the imaginary brake when she almost hit a parked car or sped up for no apparent reason in a residential neighborhood and say, “C’mon, pay attention to your driving!” What we didn’t know is that her perceived inattention wasn’t from daydreaming or looking at boys; it was from a lack of knowledge. For Amanda to get it right, we needed to actually teach her how to moderate her speed for various conditions and then practice this skill over and over.

Our family’s experience is quite common: Research shows that parents may misinterpret driving skill deficits in their teens as intentional risk-taking or lack of attention to detail. According to a recent AAA report, this misperception means that parents may not be teaching the right skills during the recommended 65+ hours of supervised driving practice. CIRP@ CHOP research found that 75 percent of serious crashes were due to a critical teen driver error, with three common errors accounting for nearly half of all serious crashes:

  • driving too fast for road conditions
  • being distracted
  • failing to detect a hazard

Raising awareness of what teens need to know and how parents can provide this knowledge is key. CIRP@CHOP research found that although parents are pivotal to the learning-to-drive process, they may not always have the tools and knowledge needed to be effective. As you plan your events for this year’s National Teen Driver Safety Week (October 20-26), keep in mind this known barrier to parental support in sharing this year’s theme “It Takes Two: Shared Expectations for Teens and Parents for Driving.”

As teen driver safety stakeholders, we can help parents teach their teens these critical driving skills. Specifically, teens need to know how to scan for hazards, which involves observing the surroundings far ahead of the vehicle and side-to-side so that they have sufficient warning to react and avoid a potential crash. They also need to learn to adjust their speed for road conditions such as dense traffic, blind curves, and poorly lit roads. Parents can help their teens reduce distractions by setting and enforcing no texting or talking while driving and limiting the number of peer passengers they can carry.

During NTDSW encourage parents to work with their teens’ driver’s ed instructor to reinforce these skills, which should be taught during lessons, with many hours of parent-supervised driving practice of those skills. Another good resource is RoadTrips® from State Farm®, which can help parents teach these critical skills.

Do you have any ideas or resources to help parents address this barrier? Share them with other teen driver safety stakeholders via Twitter #teendriving2013 or Facebook. Look for more ways to support parents in teaching their teens to drive in future blog posts.