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Teens are hard-wired to take more risks when driving

On Behalf of | May 17, 2016 | Injuries

Teenage drivers are more likely to be involved in serious accidents than other age groups for a variety of reasons. Typical causes of teen accidents include inexperience, a tendency to drive distracted and an increased likelihood to engage in other reckless behavior behind the wheel. It turns out much of this behavior can be attributed to the teen brain.

Aggressive driving and speeding

One of those risky behaviors is speeding. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some of this tendency to drive recklessly can be attributed to peer influence: according to a 2014 study by Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, teens “overvalue the short-term rewards of their decisions rather than the long-term consequences” when passengers are in the vehicle. This is particularly true for male teen drivers who have female passengers.

The result is an increased likelihood to drive beyond the speed limit, tailgate and otherwise drive aggressively.

Don’t Ride With Boys?

A landmark 2012 study, also by researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, found that teen male drivers were three times more likely to speed and drive recklessly if there was a female passenger in the car. They were also more likely to drive distracted with a girl in the car. A somewhat counterintuitive finding was that boys were less likely to drive distracted with a male teen passenger. However, they were vastly more likely to perform an illegal driving act with a male passenger.

Teens are intelligent, but more sensitive to rewarding behavior

It is often noted that teen brains are not yet fully developed. However, this is not to say that teens are unintelligent or incapable of good decision-making. Teens can be just as smart as any adult. Studies have repeatedly shown, however, that teen brains have a tendency to focus on the rewards of an action and downplay the risks involved. Full connections with the frontal lobe, the part of the brain associated with inhibiting risks, isn’t fully formed until age 25, according to a 2011 study published in the journal Nature.

Talking to your teen about driving

While teens are more prone to engage in risk-taking, there are ways to help teens lower the risk associated with driving. Limiting or restricting having passengers in the car, for example, can immediately decrease crash risk. Parents may wish to have a contract with their teen in place in which a teen promises not to drive impaired or distracted. Reminding teens to use seatbelts and obey traffic laws never hurts.