Safe Teen Driver Series: Part 4 – Top 10 new driver mistakes to avoid

Our Safe Teen Driver blog series continues. If you missed our previous posts in the series, check out how to find a driver's ed program that works, the facts on Northwest graduated licensing laws, and how parents can set the perfect example.

teen-driver-mistakes Safe Teen Driver Series: Part 4 – Top 10 new driver mistakes to avoid

Why do new teen drivers top the list of accident-prone drivers?

"Inexperience" seems the obvious answer. But the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says maturity (that is, a lack of it) factors in, too. The youngest drivers on the road, it seems, simply don't pay enough attention behind the wheel.

Cars.com enlisted the help of DriversEd.com founder Gary Tsifrin to dig deeper into the specific kinds of mistakes young drivers make. Here are some of his top 10, plus a few of our own:

  1. Distractions. No matter how catlike their reflexes, young drivers can’t compensate for the distractions that their ultra-connected world brings. With smartphone distractions alone, research from an AT&T study found that a staggering 7 in 10 people engage in some sort of smartphone activity while driving.
  2. Risky behavior. Teenagers may be wired to take more risks (like ignoring traffic signals) than their brothers and sisters who are in their early 20s. Studies show that in teenagers, the area of the brain associated with impulsiveness is twice as active as it is in young adults.
  3. A need for speed. Teens drive an average of 1.3 miles per hour faster than other drivers. That doesn't sound like much, but for a driver who has little experience reacting to and anticipating highway emergencies, speed obliterates precious time needed to avoid a crash.
  4. Too many passengers. Teen drivers with a carload of buddies are more likely to speed and follow other vehicles too closely, particularly if there's a male passenger in the front seat, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Interestingly, a female passenger in the front seat with a male driver has the opposite effect.
  5. Driving drunk or high. Youth, inexperience, and intoxication are an especially lethal combination.
  6. Following too closely. Compared with older drivers, teens leave nearly two-tenths of a second less following distance behind the car in front of them, according to an NIH study. At 40 mph, that translates to 10 fewer feet of stopping distance.
  7. Driving beltless. Although less of a problem in Washington and Oregon than other parts of the country, seat-belt use among teens tends to be lower than that for other age groups.
  8. Getting bullied by other drivers. "Honk, honk, honk!" Novice drivers, still unsure of their judgment, can get rattled easily by impatient honks or gestures from other drivers (or even a line of cars behind them at an intersection), prompting them to panic and pull into traffic when they can't see if it's truly clear.
  9. Drowsy driving. Practice-weary athletes, students with after-school jobs, and straight-A overachievers are among those most likely to drive while drowsy.
  10. Poor car choice. Cool and cheap often trump sturdy and safe when it comes to a teen's choice of wheels. The IIHS compiles an annual list of recommended best used cars for teens. The recommendations follow four main principles: low horsepower, vehicle size, electronic stability control, and safety ratings.

While these mistakes are common for new drivers, it's likely that a few apply to even the most experienced of drivers. What advice do you have for avoiding the top 10 mistakes?

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