Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Renaissance in Driver Education

The past few decades have brought some big changes to driver’s ed in the U.S. While the traditional “30/6” model (30 hours classroom instruction, 6 hours behind-the-wheel training) is still a high school staple for many teens across the country, the industry has been evolving in some interesting ways.

Fifteen states, for example, now allow teens to complete driver’s ed requirements online, and private providers have increasingly entered the marketplace and replaced public course offerings. In fact, only about half the states even require teens to take driver education at all, in part due to myriad research findings over the years that have failed to demonstrate that driver’s ed produces safer drivers.

Nonetheless, driver’s ed remains popular in the U.S. as a means of teaching teens the basics of vehicle handling, traffic laws, and safe driving. But with debate raging about its effectiveness, and state economic pressures forcing cuts to public program offerings, we believe that it is time for a renaissance in driver education.

As a starting point for promoting long-term reform in the industry, members of the traffic safety community – including the AAA Foundation – came together for a national forum in early 2009 and adopted the Novice Teen Driver Education and Training Administrative Standards. These guidelines encourage states to upgrade the scope, quality, and oversight of driver education in topic areas such as program administration, content standards, instructor qualifications, and other important aspects of driver training.

As these standards are implemented, Foundation research will continue to help inform future developments and reforms in this area. Later this year, for example, we’ll be releasing findings from our groundbreaking Large Scale Evaluation of Beginner Driver Education, the most comprehensive real-world evaluation of driver education completed since the mid-80s. And our recently-completed reports on online driver education and supplementary training for new drivers touch on some of today’s hot topics in this field.

The end of NYTSM does not mean the end of our efforts to keep teen drivers safe. In fact, now that we’re even closer to summer vacation, all of us need to remember that these carefree months can only be enjoyed if each and every day is safe.

Monday, May 21, 2012

You Know the Laws. Now Set the Rules

As a parent, you’ve been setting rules and expectations since your kids were infants. Now that they’re learning to drive, the rules you establish just might save a life.

When your teen obtains a learner’s permit, you will be required to ride in the car when he or she is driving. This is your chance to impart driving wisdom directly, in real-time. But AAA Foundation research has suggested that teens don’t get enough practice managing a variety of challenging road conditions, such as driving at rush hour, in inclement weather, or at night. Getting this practice with a parent in the car is much safer for a new driver than first experiencing such conditions later on when driving independently.

When it comes time for your teen to trade in a learner’s permit for a license, your presence in the vehicle is no longer a legal requirement. But that doesn’t mean your role as coach, partner, and supervisor of your teen’s driving has ended (despite the fact that Foundation studies have shown that parental presence in the car plummets at this point). Laws vary depending on what state you live in, but all states have some form of graduated driver licensing (GDL) provisions, which impose restrictions on novice teen drivers for a period of time. These may include things like late-night driving prohibitions, passenger limits, or cell phone bans.

Knowing your state’s GDL laws is critical, but remember – these are simply the minimum legal requirements your teen must obey. As a parent, you have the right to establish stronger rules if you see fit, and to supervise your teen’s driving privileges even from outside the car. One way we recommend managing this: sign a parent-teen driving agreement that spells out when, why, where, and with whom your teen is allowed to drive, and stick to the rules you and your teen generate together. For more information and ideas about such agreements, visit www.teendriving.aaa.com.
Parent involvement in the learning-to-drive process is recognized as an important factor in keeping teens safe. Several states even require that parents attend special classes about the teen licensure and learning process, and ongoing Foundation research is investigating how to “train the trainers,” so to speak, as effectively as possible. Remember that driving is inherently risky for everyone, and even more so for teens. Nobody is in a better position to help them learn to manage and reduce those risks than you.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Eyes on the Road, Hands on the Wheel, Mind on the Task

Distracted driving is a hot topic in the traffic safety field, particularly as it relates to teen drivers. Teens are believed to be particularly susceptible to the dangers posed by distracted driving, as they are among the most avid adopters of new technologies, and they have the least experience managing risks behind the wheel.

Recently, we released the results from our naturalistic teen driver study, which is among the first to examine teen distracted driving through direct observation using in-vehicle cameras.

Electronic device use accounted for nearly one third of all the incidences of distracted driving observed in the study. Other frequent distractions included adjusting vehicle controls, personal grooming, and eating or drinking.

Interestingly, females were nearly twice as likely as males to use an electronic device while driving, and overall were nearly 10% more likely to be observed engaging in other distracted behaviors, such as reaching for an object in the vehicle and eating or drinking. Males, on the other hand, were roughly twice as likely to turn around in their seats while driving, and were also more likely to communicate with people outside of the vehicle.

Teens were twice as likely to text or type on their electronic devices as they were to make handheld calls. Recent reports suggest teens send between 3,000 to 4,000 texts per month, and with texting estimated to increase crash risk at least eight times, the findings underscore how critical it is for teens to put down their devices and pay attention to driving.

Other concerning behaviors involved teens driving with teen passengers. Loud conversation and horseplay were more than twice as likely to occur when multiple teens – instead of just one – were present. These distractions are particularly concerning, as they were found to be associated with serious incidents and high g-force events. Drivers were six times more likely to have a serious incident when there was loud conversation in the vehicle, and were more than twice as likely to have a high g-force event when there was horseplay.

As we continue with our observance of National Youth Traffic Safety Month, I urge everybody – not just teens – to remember the three simple rules of attentive driving: keep your eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, and mind on the task at hand. Put your texts and calls on hold, or the next message your friends receive may be from the hospital.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Room for One More? Nope

Last week we touched on the importance of night driving restrictions for novice teen drivers. This week we turn our attention to another key component of graduated driver licensing: passenger limits.

Today, the AAA Foundation released a new report, Teen Driver Risk in Relation to Age and Number of Passengers, detailing how much the risk of a teen driver getting into a crash is affected by the number and age of the passengers he or she is carrying. The results largely corroborate the findings of earlier studies that were conducted before many states enacted passenger restrictions as part of their GDL systems.

Compared with driving alone, a 16- or 17-year-old driver carrying one passenger younger than 21 (and with no older passengers) has a 44 percent greater chance of death per mile driven. Having two passengers younger than 21 doubles the risk of death, compared with driving alone. Carrying three or more young passengers quadruples the risk of death.

In contrast, a 16- or 17-year-old driver’s risk of death per mile driven is reduced 62 percent when driving with an adult aged 35 or older.

These startling numbers point to two things. First, they highlight how important it is that states have worked to enact passenger limits for novice teen drivers. Currently, 45 states and the District of Columbia have such restrictions in place, though many of these do allow one teen peer to be in the vehicle. Second, they serve as a strong reminder of the protective influence that adult passengers have on teen drivers, and the benefits of parents continuing to drive with their teens even after the learner’s permit phase has ended.

Other Foundation research has also touched on the issue of teens with passengers. Our recent naturalistic study of teen distracted driving found that loud conversation and horseplay were more than twice as likely to occur when teens drove with multiple teen passengers compared to when only one teen passenger was present. These were also among the riskiest distracting conditions for teen drivers: serious incidents, for example, were six times more likely to occur when there was loud conversation in the vehicle.

As teens gear up for prom, graduation, end-of-year parties, and summer vacation, the temptation to pile friends into the car and hit the open road is going to rise with the temperature. But since the risk of driver death also rises with each additional passenger, we take this opportunity to remind everybody of the importance of passenger restrictions, and the right parents have to set their own – even if their state hasn’t.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Graduated Driver Licensing and Night Driving

One of the most successful innovations in the effort to reduce teen traffic fatalities has been the adoption of graduated driver licensing (GDL) in every state. Under these GDL systems, teens are not granted full driving privileges right away. Instead, they progress through stages, with restrictions gradually lifted as teens become more experienced.

While each state sets its own specific GDL provisions, the basic structure is the same almost everywhere:

1)    Teens first get a learner’s permit, which allows them to drive only when a parent or other adult is in the car with them.

2)    Next, teens get an intermediate license, which allows them to drive unsupervised, but with certain restrictions in place.

3)    Finally, after a certain amount of time or when they reach a certain age, teens can receive a full, unrestricted license.

This tiered approach limits the risk teens are exposed to when they are first learning to drive, so that they have gained some practice and experience by the time they confront more hazardous situations.

One circumstance that nearly every state’s GDL system places restrictions on is night driving. The combination of reduced visibility, glare, fatigue, impaired drivers, and other factors makes night time particularly hazardous for teens, who are not yet accustomed to managing risks behind the wheel. In fact, driving at night doubles teens’ chances of getting in a deadly crash. And it’s not just late-night driving that’s dangerous: along with the hours right after school gets out, the most common time for teen traffic fatalities to occur is between 9 pm and midnight.

So how can we protect teens from night time crashes? It’s important to know what time your state’s night restrictions take effect. In nearly half the states, they don’t begin until midnight or later; safety experts, however, agree that teen safety would be improved greatly if restrictions kicked in at 9 or 10 pm. If you’re a parent, you can always decide to set house rules requiring your teen to be off the road earlier than state law requires.

Night driving restrictions are not the same as curfews. They are not about keeping teens out of trouble so much as they are about keeping them alive. Visit our web site, www.aaafoundation.org, to learn about our work in teen safety. For additional resources for parents and teens, visit www.teendriving.aaa.com.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

National Youth Traffic Safety Month

For teens across the country, May is a special time of year. Spring sports are heating up, the school year is wrapping up, and preparations for prom and graduation are revving up.

For parents, educators, and those of us in the safety community, May is also an exciting time, as we share in the pride and enthusiasm that mark the end of a successful year and the eve of summer. But it is also a poignant time, as we recognize that the celebrations take a toll and the risk of teen crashes jumps.

National Youth Traffic Safety Month (NYTSM) serves as an important reminder that the only way for this to be a joyous time of year is for it also to be a safe one. Teens face a number of challenges on the road. Their inexperience,combined with immaturity, make them four times more likely to be involved in a crash than other drivers.

With this risk comes devastating consequences: traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers, claiming over 3,100 young lives in 2010 alone. That’s more than 3,100 families who won’t see their teens go off to college, or get their first job, or graduate, or become parents themselves. Many say this is tragic; I say it is outrageous.

All month long I’ll be posting entries here related to teen traffic safety, covering topics like graduated driver licensing, driver education, and parental involvement in the learning process. Later this month we’ll be releasing new findings regarding teen crash risk when passengers are present, and we’ll be joining with AAA and our other partners to promote the youth traffic safety message at events and in media nationwide.

I hope you’ll join us in observing NYTSM, and I wish all of you a happy, celebratory, and safe summer.