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Part II: common road mistakes by teenaged drivers

In our previous post, we wrote about an article in the Charlotte Observer about new research on car accidents caused by teenagers. A new study finds that teens aren't necessarily wild drivers speeding around recklessly, but that their higher accident rates are due to driving failures and mistakes that can be attributed to their inexperience behind the wheel.

Teen drivers often fail to scan the roads and streets for hazards, they often misdiagnose road conditions and they too often drive while distracted, researchers found.

The new research shows that 21 percent of crashes caused by teens are due to failures to properly scan the roads and to properly use side and rear-view mirrors to look for dangers beside or behind their vehicles. Other common, similar mistakes include teens who miscalculate the speed of an oncoming vehicle as they make a left turn, and teens who fail to recognize that parked vehicles can obscure hazards in an intersection they're about to enter.

Dr. Dennis Durbin, one of the study's authors, said "teenagers keep a tunnel vision right off the hood of the car. They think all they need to do is look straight ahead, but they don't realize the need to be scanning back and forth so they always know where their car is in space."

Because scanning becomes automatic for experienced drivers, they may fail to communicate the importance of the practice to younger drivers they're mentoring.

Durbin suggests those mentors (often parents) ask young drivers about details about cars and pedestrians: what colors are the vehicles to your left? What's the pedestrian to your right wearing?

In that way, mentors can help inexperienced drivers acquire the habit of noticing what vehicles and people around them are doing.

Another aspect of driving inexperienced drivers struggle with is proper assessment of road conditions. They can commonly overestimate their vehicle's ability to stop on wet pavement or when snow or black ice are present.

Driver distraction is another common problem. Distractions include cell phones, of course, but perhaps at least as important are other distractions such as passengers in the vehicle.

Researchers suggest that mentors drive around and explain how to handle distractions while driving, as well as how to scan the road and how to judge and react to hazardous weather conditions. In that way, mentors can help young drivers turn into experienced, safe drivers.

Source: Charlotte Observer: "3 driving mistakes hurt teens" by Tara Parker-Pope: April 24, 2011

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