You have your license, you have great eyesight, and you have great reflexes. You have all the tools to drive safely.
Whether or not you have the skill – which comes only from experience – is less certain.
The National Academy of Sciences addressed this in a 2007 report, and its findings remain relevant today. The NAS report on the causes of young-driver crashes noted a difference between the physical skills needed to drive and the more-complex judgment skills needed for safe driving – skills like recognizing and correcting for errors and detecting hazards on the roadway. Those take longer to acquire than the simple mechanics of operating a car.
NAS reported the common errors teenage drivers make, and raising your awareness here can help you avoid them. They include failure to:
- maintain attention and avoid distractions, including electronic devices
- search ahead, such as before left turns
- search to the side, like when changing lanes
- adjust speed for traffic or road conditions
- maintain proper space between other cars (tailgating, for example)
- recover from a skid or sudden swerve
- maintain basic control, such as staying within your lane, braking, and turning smoothly
- follow traffic controls, like traffic lights
- avoid driving while impaired by alcohol or sleep deprivation.
Something of local interest to note: the Washington Traffic Safety Commission looked at young drivers’ fatal crashes over a five-year period, and the time of day in which they occur might surprise you. Many people might correctly guess the worst time slot, which is midnight to 2 a.m. with 20.5% of fatalities. But the second deadliest time? Not late evening, not early evening, but 3 p.m. – 6 p.m., with 18.3% of fatalities.
So be careful as you drive home from school, or to and from sports practice, or to an after-school job. Even in broad daylight, late afternoon can be a dangerous time for teen drivers.