As parents, we share our children’s pride when they earn their driver’s license. For most of us, though, our overriding emotion as we watch our teens drive away is concern.
Our concern is justified. Statistics show that the risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.
For many adults, driving seems almost automatic. Yet we can’t forget that driving is a complex activity mastered over time. Most young drivers lack the maturity and experience to judge even everyday hazardous driving situations. The risk of a motor vehicle crash is particularly high during the first year that teenagers are eligible to drive independently.
At the Injury Center, the Motor Vehicle Team provides public health leadership to keep people safe on the road every day. As such, our concern about teen drivers has led to research and strategies for keeping teens safer on the road. Still, for prevention strategies to be more effective, we need to know more about teens themselves: how they develop skills, assess risk, and interact with others. To get these answers, input is needed from a variety of fields.
So in 2006, the Injury Center, the National Institutes of Health, and State Farm Insurance Companies co-funded a workshop to begin collecting this information. Sponsored by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, the workshop brought together experts to explore and report on how new insights and understanding of adolescent development and teen risk behaviors could inform prevention strategies to reduce motor vehicle crash rates and promote responsible behavior among teen drivers.
Last September, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine followed up with a supplemental issue on the topic, “Teen Driving and Adolescent Health: Strategies for Prevention,” funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Access to this supplement is now available for free on the National Academy of Sciences Website.
We know that information about the risks teens face – including the high risk of motor vehicle crashes – is shared among a number of scientific disciplines. We believe, then, that strategies for prevention must include input from the behavioral, cognitive, social, health, and biological sciences. Let’s build on the efforts begun at the workshop and commit to using all of the resources available to help our young people live to their full potential.