The Most Dangerous Time

Ever see that commercial where a man is leaning in a car talking to a small girl who is in the driver’s seat and he is giving her instructions about driving?  It is a great commercial told from the father’s point of view as he is watching his daughter drive away by herself for the first time. 
I’m here to tell you that his fears are well founded according to a new study released by the AAA Foundation.
AAAThe new report that found that the most dangerous time for new drivers is the first month of unsupervised driving.  A seven year study of crash rates of teen drivers in North Carolina indicated that new drivers are 50% more likely to crash in that first month than after a full year of experience driving on their own, and are nearly twice as likely to crash as they are after two full years of experience. 
 Of all of the crashes in which teens were at least partially responsible,  57 percent could be attributed to failure to reduce speed, inattention, and failure to yield during that first month of driving. 
When researchers looked at specific types of crashes in relation to how long the driver had been licensed, they found that some types of crashes occurred at relatively high rates at first and declined particularly quickly with experience. For example, crashes involving left hand turns were common during the first few months of driving but declined almost immediately. The high initial rate and subsequent steep decline in certain types of crashes appeared to reflect teens’ initial inexperience followed by rapid learning.  Crash types that did not decline as slowly suggest that they result not from lack of understanding, but from failure to master certain driving skills.
A few years ago I served on a task force for Secretary of State Terry Lynn Land representing the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.  Our task was to develop a proposed policy that could be written into legislation improving the driver education program in Michigan.  That legislation has since become law–good law, I believe.  It was a large group representing the many interest groups including driver training companies, schools, police (me), MDOT and many others. Given my experience as a police officer, I argued extensively for an increase in supervised driving time for new drivers.  And I’m glad to report that the law did increase the required supervised time.  This study points out that although drivers can increase that supervised time there is a period of time when they simply have to learn on their own.  Clearly it is a very dangerous time.
But for all you nervous parents out there I’d like to offer these tips from AAA: 
  • Practice, practice, practice: Once teens have their actual license, continue to practice together to ensure that basic skills are mastered and to introduce varied driving conditions (snow, heavy traffic, rural roads) with an experienced driver in the passenger seat.
  • Keep passengers out: Teen drivers’ crash risks multiply with teenage passengers in the vehicle. Set limits and enforce them consistently.
  • Limit night driving: Reduced visibility makes night driving riskier for drivers of all ages. For inexperienced teens, it’s even harder. Allow new teen drivers to drive at night only if truly necessary or to practice with a parent.
  • Keep setting rules: Parents can – and should – set and enforce rules above and beyond their state laws. In addition to night and passenger limits, set rules for inclement weather, highways, cities, or other driving conditions in which a teen has not gained enough experience. Find a parent-teen driving agreement on that can help.

 For further information, AAA has a great website customized to Michigan with tips and ideas for families with new drivers.  Check it out here