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Risky Driving and the Teenage Brain

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young people from 15 to 24 years old represent only 14 percent of the population but are responsible for 30 percent of motor vehicle injuries among males and 28 percent among females. In other words, a young driver is roughly twice as likely as a mature driver to cause an injury accident.

Factors that lead to teen driver accidents include:

  • Alcohol
  • Distracted driving
  • Driving with other teens in the car
  • Risky driving
  • Seat belt use
  • Nighttime and weekend driving
  • Driving on rural roads

The term “risky driving” includes speeding, abrupt lane changes, pulling into traffic with limited space and tailgating. Risky driving is at odds with the safe driving rules that teens get drilled into their minds from the moment they sit behind the wheel. Distressed parents wonder what they can do to get the message across. Unfortunately, from what scientists have discovered about the teenaged brain, there may be very little to be done.

Brain mapping using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) has shown that the prefrontal cortex in teenagers is not fully developed. The prefrontal cortex is the area that regulates mature cognitive abilities, such as advanced reasoning, abstract thinking, emotional regulation and impulse control. Parents who wonder why their teenagers suddenly fly into tirades should understand that their kids may not have the mental wiring necessary to prevent such outbursts.

In addition, research out of Temple University shows that teens are more receptive to signals they get from their peers than from their own families. That attitude should come as no surprise to parents, but the fact that there is brain chemistry behind it, and that teens get a reinforcing dopamine jolt every time they get positive social feedback, tells us there’s more at work here than mere peer pressure.

So, if teens are wired for risky behavior and rewarded for doing as their peers want them to, how is a concerned parent supposed to reinforce safe driving? The Centers for Disease Control holds that parents are the key for safe driving among teens. Knowledge of the risks to teen drivers and vigilance are important factors in keeping your kids safe.

If the unthinkable happens and your teen is involved in a crash, a Milwaukee auto accident attorney at Sperling Law Offices LLC can help.