Adolescent drivers: a developmental perspective on risk, proficiency, and safety

Despite considerable improvement in the rates of crashes, injuries, and fatalities among adolescent drivers, attributable in part to effective interventions such as graduated driver licensing, these rates and their associated health risks remain unacceptably high. To understand the sources of risky driving among teens, as well as to identify potential avenues for further advances in prevention, this article presents a review of the relevant features of contemporary research on adolescent development. Current research offers significant advances in the understanding of the sources of safe driving, proficient driving, and risky driving among adolescents. This multifaceted perspective–as opposed to simple categorization of good versus bad driving–provides new opportunities for using insights on adolescent development to enhance prevention. Drawing on recent work on adolescent physical, neural, and cognitive development, we argue for approaches to prevention that recognize both the strengths and the limitations of adolescent drivers, with particular attention to the acquisition of expertise, regulatory competence, and self-regulation in the context of perceived risk. This understanding of adolescent development spotlights the provision of appropriate and effective scaffolding, utilizing the contexts of importance to adolescents–parents, peers, and the broader culture of driving–to support safe driving and to manage the inherent risks in learning to do so. [References: 53]