Research Improves Training, Assessment of Teen Driving Skills

Jan 9 2015

Research Improves Training, Assessment of Teen Driving Skills

teen drivingA recent article in the Wall Street Journal on “one of the most dreaded rites of child-rearing — teaching a teenager to drive” — notes recent research on teen driving and training can help teens learn to be better drivers and so avoid accidents. The article touches on studies by Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) staff: one that examined a web-based intervention, and a more recent investigation of teen driving error frequency.

Though many parents do a good job of teaching the basics of driving — “steering, parking, and controlling the car” — the Wall Street Journal article notes that parents “are not so good, however, at teaching the skills young drivers need to actually avoid accidents, according to new research. Now, there are new techniques and even guides that have grown out of new scientific research into the parent-child dynamic in the car.”

Two studies cited by the Wall Street Journal article were led by CIRP experts. In August, JAMA Pediatrics published a study authored by Jessica Mirman, PhD, that examined the effectiveness of the web-based Teen Driving Plan (TDP) tool in improving teen driving performance as measured by the Teen On-road Driving Assessment (tODA).

Along with the Center for Injury Research and Prevention’s Allison E. Curry, PhD, MPH, and Flaura K. Winston, MD, PhD, among others, Dr. Mirman measured the TDP’s effectiveness in increasing the quantity of practice and teens’ driving performance in 217 teen-parent dyads. The dyads were randomized to receive either the TDP or standard Pennsylvania driver manuals.

She found that the “dyads reported more practice in 5 of the 6 environments and at night and in bad weather compared with control dyads.” In addition, fewer teenagers who used the TDP had their tODA’s terminated for safety reasons than did the control group, who received PA manuals. The study’s “evidence suggest that the TDP improves supervised practice and the driving performance of prelicensed teenaged drivers,” the study author’s notes.

Indeed, as the Wall Street Journal article notes, one parent who participated in Dr. Mirman’s study says the TDP helped improved her driving lessons. “Having a game plan to work with, and to be accountable for, was better,” said Monica Pica.

The second study, led by Dennis Durbin, MD, MSCE, director of CHOP Research’s Office of Clinical and Translational Research, follows Dr. Mirman’s work by investigating driving errors made by teens during their learner’s permit period. This study, published in Accident Analysis & Prevention, used the tODA at 12 and 24 weeks of study to examine driving errors in teen and adult drivers.

Dr. Durbin and colleagues found that 55 percent of novice teen drivers committed “critical errors” at the 12-week tODA and 54 percent committed errors on the 24-week tODA. Only one experienced adult driver committed a critical error at 12 weeks and one at 24 weeks.

“In comparison to a group of experienced adult drivers, a substantially higher proportion of learner teens committed safety-relevant critical driving errors at both time points of assessment,” the authors note. The finding, they write, “suggest further research is needed to better understand how teens might effectively learn skills necessary for safe independent driving while they are still under supervised conditions.”

To read more, see the Wall Street Journal article, “Better Ways to Teach Teens to Drive.” And to learn more about the research being conducted at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention, see the CIRP website.