Modified: December 11, 2022

How Teen Brain Development Issues Can Impact Safe Driving – Ask Our Lawyers

Teens may believe that now, since they have their driver’s licenses, they are road-ready and safe drivers. However, putting the brakes on and thinking about how the adolescent brain develops may be a good idea. Young drivers whose cognitive development falls behind their peers are more likely to be involved in a vehicle accident. Let’s discuss this with world famous Los Angeles brain injury lawyer, Michael Ehline.

Car accidents and traffic injuries are the main causes of death among young people worldwide. The youngest drivers in the United States, for instance, have the highest risk of collisions and driving-related injuries. “It’s a major public health issue,” Elizabeth Walshe says. She is a cognitive neuroscientist, which means that she investigates how the brain functions.

Teen Drivers and Brain Development

Human brains do not fully develop until about the age of 30 according to medical research. The brain develops in segments and at different rates for males and girls as they grow up. The brain’s frontal lobe is the last to grow, and girls’ brains develop roughly two years earlier than boys’ brains.

What Role Does the Frontal Lobe Play in Driver Safety?

The prefrontal cortex of the brain is where motor skills and cognitive functions are controlled. These functions are associated with performing complex movements, making decisions, and responding emotionally, all of which are critical for safe driving.

According to Bruce Simmons-Morton, senior investigator, NICHD, teen drivers who lack a completely formed frontal lobe are more prone to participate in risky behaviors like speeding, and unsafe lane changes are less able to make sensible decisions in stressful situations. While we all face a crash risk on the road, a teen’s immature brain, along with inadequate road skills and a lack of life experience, has a significant impact on teen drivers’ responses.

What Are Executive Functions? – Teen Brain Development

The frontal lobe is linked to a set of higher-order cognitive processes known as “executive functions,” which allow people to make decisions, monitor and control their behavior, and manage complex tasks like driving.

Three of these executive functions are essential for driving safely:

  • Working Memory – Underpins the ability to multitask by allowing you to maintain and handle pieces of information at the time.
  • Inhibitory Control – Filtering and resisting irrelevant or distracting information, as well as suppressing impulsive action.
  • Set-Shifting — The ability to maintain or shift attention and responses in different environments as task demands or rules change.

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia did a review of prior studies that investigated executive function abilities and bad driving outcomes in teenagers to determine which of these specific talents are most relevant to safe driving as adolescents mature. Here’s what they discovered:

In young drivers, poor working memory development and inhibitory control are linked to poor driving outcomes, although set-shifting is not.

Adolescents with impaired working memory had more self-reported collisions and traffic tickets, and they drive more impatiently. Those with poor working memory perform poorly in simulated driving tasks such as danger perception, detection, and lane maintenance.

Furthermore, adolescents with a stronger working memory capacity are more inclined to risk their lives by speeding past red lights. This could be due to their confidence in their capacity to handle difficult tasks and conditions (such as running a red light).

Among simulated teen driving experiments, poor inhibition in adolescent drivers has been linked to self-reported dangerous or risky driving behavior, as well as speeding and poor lane maintenance.

Since the responsibilities of driving are still new, adolescent drivers may rely largely on working memory and the capacity to filter out distractions. They haven’t mastered how to easily handle driving mechanics yet like shifting gears and checking their mirrors.

At What Age Is the Teen Brain Fully Developed?

Until at least the age of 30, the teen brain is not fully matured. When individuals reach the age of 20, white matter begins to spread from the back of the brain forward, with the process normally taking 25 to 30 years to complete. The frontal lobe, which regulates emotional maturity, the body’s motor skills, and reluctance to take risks, is the region of the brain most responsible for driving skills.

Teenagers are considerably more inclined to disobey traffic signs, speed, and lose control of their automobiles due to a lack of white matter in this area.

Some safety experts believe that the minimum driving age should be raised to 18 years old as a result of the white matter discovery. Others, on the other hand, have argued that this is a needless shift that will put an unreasonable strain on parents. A campaign for stronger graduated licensing rules, which would impose a multi-tiered licensing system to ease minors into the responsibilities of driving without a parent in the car, is becoming more widespread.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommended that each state should use a three-tiered graduated license system. This would start with a learner’s permit, then advance to an intermediate license with some restrictions, and finally to an unrestricted license.

Teenagers can acquire their driver’s permit at 15 years and six months under California’s graduated license policy, but they can only drive with a parent or guardian. Once a driver reaches the age of 16, he or she is eligible for a restricted license, which requires the driver and their peer passengers to be accompanied by an adult over the age of 25 for the first twelve months. It also prohibits teen driving participants between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety estimated in 2006 that graded licensing regulations have already reduced accidents among 16-year-olds by 23%, preventing more than 8,000 car accidents and injuries. All kinds of past injury research and new research over car crashes, including the Philadelphia Trajectory Study shows the teen driver is at a higher risk for a crash and resultant brain development issues during puberty.

Improve Driver Training

Given the critical role of executive control in safe driving, more research is needed to inform effective training and interventions – that address limited executive function capacities – to reduce related common driver errors. Consider the following evidence-based ideas:

Drive in Complex Situations

Teen drivers with low working memory development could be taught to drive in complex situations with many directions or while multitasking, using driver education and virtual driver training.

ADAS Technologies

In order to minimize collisions, advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) technologies could be used to provide alerts or execute autonomous operations that rely on attentive navigation or working memory, such as lane departure signs for poor lane construction.

Cell Phones Technology

Cell phone-blocking technology could be especially useful for adolescent drivers who struggle to stay focused on the road. As teen years show a higher crash rate risk, these new drivers must not drive with other passengers unless allowed by law during adolescence. Teenage drivers must not use phones while driving.

Contact a Teen Brain Personal Injury Lawyer in California

If you or your teen has been injured in a car accident in California, you should call a personal injury lawyer right away. While you focus on recovering, our car accident attorneys have the tools and knowledge to navigate your claim and receive the compensation you deserve. In the meantime, drive safely and do what you can to avoid a car crash as it can lead to slower development, permanent disability or death behind the wheel.

Call us for a free case review today at (213) 596-9642 to learn more about your case and status as a plaintiff or a defendant. You can also use our convenient online contact us form to converse with a highly motivated, aggressive car crash lawyer today!

Top Notch American Injury Lawyer, Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline

Michael is a managing partner at the nationwide Ehline Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC. He’s an inactive Marine and became a lawyer in the California State Bar Law Office Study Program, later receiving his J.D. from UWLA School of Law. Michael has won some of the world’s largest motorcycle accident settlements.

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