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Teen drivers, make the adults quit griping

Tuesday, January 14, 2014by  Jon Osterberg

Teenagers, here’s shocking news: Beginning drivers multitask behind the wheel, raising the chances they’ll crash.
   Shocking and surprising … not!
   Drivers of all ages know it’s dangerous to take your eyes off the road. Right? And a new report about distracted driving confirms basically every report I’ve ever read, not to mention common sense.
   I know, you’re thinking, “Here comes another ‘don’t text and drive’ lecture.” But what I like about this National Public Radio article is its non-judgmental tone.
   The gist of the new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, says that teen drivers start off being careful, but they start multitasking after just a few months behind the wheel. And eating while driving, or messing with the radio, is more dangerous for teens than their parents. (The study shows dialing a cell phone is dangerous for both.)
   The NPR article says it’s normal that young drivers will push the boundaries after a few months behind the wheel.
   "You increase the difficulty of a task until you make an error," said a behavioral scientist who co-authored the study. "It seems like a very natural thing but still it's very dangerous, because good driving ability and safety judgment develops over a very long period of time."
   He added that it takes thousands of hours of practice to get good at driving. That’s not automatically understood, and after just six months teen drivers tend to get overconfident, which helps explain their high accident rate.
   I shared the NPS article with a high-school student I know who tutors young kids. She’s smart and responsible, and I wanted to get her take on it.
   “Teenagers can be good drivers, because they have faster reflexes than adults,” she had told me once before. When I pointed out the statistical disparity in accident rates, she conceded, “Yeah, teen statistics are pretty whacked because a lot of kids show off when they drive.”
   She read the story and later acknowledged that the practice-makes-perfect theory “probably makes sense.”
   Are you tired of being criticized by adults who say that all teens are bad drivers? You can make them quit griping. Simply ignore your phone, food, and other distractions when you drive. Show them you can drive safely.
   Then you can say, “Told you so.”

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