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NIH Study Illustrates Why Teen Drivers Are So Risky

Any parent of a young, newly-minted driver knows that teen drivers are a high-risk group - and as a result, adding them to a car insurance policy can double, or even triple, the rates that they pay.

In order to determine why this is the case, the U.S National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted a study that observed the driving habits of 42 new teenage drivers in Virginia, as well as their parents, for 18 months. Before the study began, the NIH installed participants' cars with internal and external cameras, GPS devices, and systems that collect data on when the cars accelerated and how many miles the cars were driven.

After observing participants for 18 months, the NIH found that:

  • there were 37 crashes among the study's teens, and 2 accidents that involved the adults
  • the teen drivers were involved in 242 near-accidents, compared to the 32 near-crashes that involved their parents
  • the more experience that teen drivers gained, the fewer near-accidents they were involved in - although they did not come close to reaching the near-accident rates of the adults during the time of the study
  • teens were five times more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as driving too fast and making rapid turns and hard stops
  • after teen drivers were involved in an accident, or a close call, it did not deter them from engaging in risky driving behaviors

The study, which was published in the October 2011 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, used a unique methodology that gave researchers insight they may not have otherwise had, says the NIH.

"This is the first naturalistic or objective assessment of teenage risky driving," said lead researcher Bruce G. Simons-Morton in a statement. "Sadly, it points out the teenage driving dilemma, which is that newly licensed drivers of all ages, but particularly teenagers, are a high risk for accidents early on."

Why Teen Drivers Get Into More Accidents

In addition to engaging in risky behaviors, teen drivers are less likely to accurately assess how dangerous a situation is, which causes them to proceed normally in cases where they should use more caution. They also tend to drive during nighttime hours, which increases the risks of being in an accident. And when teenagers are involved in car crashes, they are more likely to sustain serious personal injuries because they tend to avoid using seat belts.

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