When teenagers begin to drive, they experience a learning curve for at least a few months. It will take some time for teen drivers to become accustomed to the road. However, COVID-19 changed everything, including teaching teenagers how to drive.
In 2020, there were many states that had to adjust their testing standards to the pandemic’s needs. Some states waived road testing for new drivers altogether. Some states allowed the parents of teens with a learner’s permit to submit an affidavit of practice instead of an on-road test.
Some states had to outsource road tests to third-party driving schools. Even though the consequences of these actions are unclear for the moment, safety researchers are concerned that these changes will affect teen drivers moving forward, especially in the area of car accidents.
Crash rates of novice drivers
The changes to road tests for teen drivers is a factor that many safety researchers at the American Psychological Association (APA) are interested in. The main reason is that the decision to license teen drivers is a balancing act between equity, mobility, and safety.
Per the APA, novice drivers have crash rates that are 2 to 3 times higher than experienced drivers. The group reports that “According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatal crashes involving drivers 15 to 20 years old rose from 3,863 in 2019 to 4,405 in 2020, an increase of 14%.”
Teen drivers are in the process of learning a skill that takes at least a few months to master and become accustomed to. The first 6 to 12 months of getting fully licensed is one of the most crucial times for teen drivers. This is the time period where drivers learn to become safer by themselves. This is also the time period where teen drivers learn to acquire a skill known as hazard perception.
Researchers are seeking ways to make the learning process quicker and safer for teen drivers within the first months of driving on the roads.
That is why researchers have praised the Graduated Driver Licensing GDL system. The GDL system requires teen drivers to obtain months of practice on the road while being supervised by adults. The system also places restrictions on teen drivers like the number of passengers allowed in their vehicles. It’s a great balance between allowing teen drivers to practice driving on the road while offering protections from the mistakes that they can make.
And we know it was working here in Ohio. A 2017 analysis published in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention looked at the number of crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving Ohio drivers between the ages of 16 and 20. The authors concluded:
The post-GDL period was associated with lower crash, injury crash, and fatal crash involvement among drivers and occupants ages 16-17 years but higher overall crash involvement for drivers and occupants ages 19 years, 20 years, and 18-20 years combined. These findings support extending GDL restrictions to novice drivers ages 18 through 20 years to reduce crashes in that group.
What we do not know at this time is what kinds of effects the virus had on young drivers in Columbus in the same age bracket for the last few years. If Ohio’s numbers follow the national trend, though, we can assume that the numbers of injuries and crashes likely increased, even with the GDL system in place.
What is hazard perception?
Hazard perception is the ability to respond to developing situations. When driving, this skill is constantly used. It’s the ability to notice when a car is attempting to pull out on a blind curve. It’s a skillset that can be considered cognitive and visual. It could also be the key to helping younger and/or inexperienced drivers stay safer on the roads.
Other countries have incorporated hazard perception tests into the licensing process for decades. The United Kingdom in particular has included hazard perception tests since 2002. Driving applicants must watch a couple of videos and press a button when they see a hazard. The impact of this testing is estimated to reduce more than 1,000 injury-based collisions in the United Kingdom.
Issues with teaching hazard perception
Even though testing has been effective in other countries, teaching new drivers how to practice hazard perception is not clear. The process may involve linking experience to emotions. Safety researchers believe that it may be developed as drivers acquire a “gut feeling” in real-world situations.
A teen driver may attempt to switch lanes while driving next to a commercial truck without any emotion. But after almost colliding with the truck or driving too close to the truck, they may feel an anxious feeling the next time and respond accordingly. They may speed up to avoid being struck by the truck or reduce their speed and allow the truck to pass through.
Somatic marker hypothesis
Safety researchers believe that a somatic marker hypothesis may play a role in learning hazard perception for new drivers. In a laboratory study, researchers asked inexperienced drivers, learning drivers, and drivers with more than three years of experience to watch short videos containing road hazards while having their skin conductance measured.
The study revealed that experienced drivers had a higher skin conductance reaction at the moment of the hazard compared to inexperienced drivers. Inexperienced drivers were also revealed to have stronger reactions than learning drivers.
The results were also similar in regards to the skin conductance reaction in the moments leading up to the hazard. The study can reveal to safety researchers what information new drivers don’t have that they need to learn to have.
The findings suggest that new drivers don’t have as strong of a gut feeling about potential dangers as more experienced drivers.
How well-meaning parents may be making their teen drivers less aware
One of the reasons why it may take teen drivers longer to develop hazard perception is because the learning process is supervised at the beginning. When teens begin to drive, their parents often take on the role of searching for potential hazards. They will instruct teens on when to brake or when it is safe to make a turn.
A potential issue is that while parents may understand the importance of practice on the road, they may not highlight specific skills for their teens to learn.
Instead of focusing on specific skill sets to learn, parents encourage teens to become better at awareness or preparedness. One suggestion that researchers believe could help teens with hazard perception is practicing from the passenger seat. Teens could practice identifying hazards on the road.
Was your teen involved in a car accident? No matter the situation, it is important to talk with a Columbus car accident lawyer at Soroka & Associates. Call our office, or submit our contact form to schedule a free initial consultation today.