Teen Driving Facts and Tips Series: Teenage Brain Development

We’re about a week into the new school year, and onto our second installment of the Teen Driving Tips and Facts Series! This post addresses teenage brain development and its effects on driving ability. The teen years are an incredibly pivotal growth period, and body changes, both inside and out, affect more aspects of life than you may think. The skills required when learning to drive are a prime example of the way these changes have an effect you may not have considered.

As our previous post addressed, teens are easily distracted, and the technological age in which today’s teens are growing up is said to have negatively affected the already short attention span they have. A teen’s tendency to be easily distracted becomes a problem when learning to drive when it’s coupled with inexperience and causes dangerous scenarios on the road. Cell phone use and text messaging has been found to cause traffic accidents among drivers of all ages, but when a distracted driver regains focus, experienced drivers are better equipped to handle the situation. Driving inexperience in teens often causes them to swerve into other lanes, brake too hard, run off the road, get rear-ended and cut off other drivers. This is something that improves as driving skills develop through experience, but that takes time, so it’s critical for your teen to be aware of the potential hazards caused by inexperience.

The teenage brain is still not yet fully developed, and one of the areas that has not fully matured is the self-control center. As a result, teens are not capable of making the same decisions as adults when it comes to taking risks, impulsivity, feeling emotional or having to make judgment calls. Additionally, a teen’s problem-solving skills are also not fully developed, so when they’re faced with difficult driving decisions, it’s not uncommon for them to panic. Becoming confused or indecisive, being unable to figure out consequences, or getting emotionally overwhelmed are all commonplace for teen drivers, and it all stems from teenage brain development.

Another skill set that is linked to brain development that is not yet fully matured in teens is the ability to accurately judge location, distance and speed. This becomes an issue when driving because it affects maneuvering your own car, as well as determining what else is happening on the road around you. Teens often struggle with determining where their vehicles should be in a turn lane, distancing their cars from others in turns/in traffic lanes, turning ratios, speed needed to enter traffic and determining the speed of oncoming cars or traffic up ahead. When the aforementioned impulsivity of teenagers is joined with their inability to accurately judge distance, we arrive at an even bigger problem, because teens are often guilty of speeding, running red lights, passing other cars in no-passing zones, making illegal turns and risky lane changes. Not being able to accurately judge the space or time required to make a traffic maneuver creates a high risk of accidents.

Experts believe that teenagers have different sleeping patterns than children and adults due to a number of physiological events. The body’s circadian rhythm, which controls the daily cycles that the body goes through, including sleeping/waking, resets itself during teen years, telling the body to fall asleep later and wake up later. In addition, teenagers produce melatonin, the brain hormone that induces sleep, later at night than children or adults. Teenagers struggle to fall asleep earlier than they did as children due to these physiological causes, but then have to wake up earlier than they did as children because high school starts earlier than elementary school!  As a result, teenagers often do not get the amount of sleep that they require to function optimally. Lack of sleep impairs the ability to drive, and the National Sleep Foundation reports that sleep-deprived drivers actually react as poorly as drunk drivers. In order to get more rest, encourage your teen to shut off their electronics at least one hour before bed, create bedtime routines that cue their bodies to sleep and go to sleep at the same time every night.

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