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Teen drivers’ crash risk spikes after learner’s permit period ends: study

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Bethesda, MD — Independence comes with a steep safety risk for new teen drivers, according to recent research from the National Institutes of Health.

Using software and cameras installed in vehicles, researchers collected data from 90 teens and 131 of their parents from the start of the driver learning period through the first year of independent driving. Results showed that the teens’ chances of being involved in a crash or near collision were eight times greater in the first three months after becoming licensed drivers than during the previous three months, when they had a learner’s permit and drove under supervision.

Additionally, the teens were four times more likely to engage in risky behaviors – such as rapid acceleration, sudden braking and hard turns – during the period after getting their licenses. Prior to that, their crash, near collision and risky driving rates more closely reflected their parents’ rates.

“Given the abrupt increase in driving risks when teenagers start to drive independently, our findings suggest that they may benefit from a more gradual decrease in adult supervision during the first few months of driving alone,” Bruce Simons-Morton, study co-author and senior investigator at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in a press release.

Researchers found no gender difference in the crash, near collision and risky driving rates during the learning period or afterward. However, the risky driving rate rose among males after they got their licenses.

“During the learner’s permit period, parents are present, so there are some skills that teenagers cannot learn until they are on their own,” Pnina Gershon, study lead author, said in the release. “We need a better understanding of how to help teenagers learn safe driving skills when parents or other adults are not present.”

The study was published online July 10 in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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