How to Keep Your New Driver Safe on Post-COVID Roads

Parent Teaching Teen How to DriveThe pandemic brought on a lot of changes to our daily lives, our old way of conducting business, and educating students. This applied to driving tests as well. After all, with DMV examiners seeing several people a day in the close confines of a car, the infection rate is not negligible. What that meant for teens who needed to get their driver’s license was that there had to be a new way to take the tests.

Some driver tests were eliminated altogether in favor of parents signing off on practice hours, or that after a certain age, new drivers were not required to take the driving test. In light of this, parents need to wonder if the roads are more dangerous now, and if their pandemic-approved new driver can safely navigate busy highways and hazardous roads.

The inexperience of new drivers

At Bailey & Greer, we support our young and learning drivers. It’s a part of growing up and a part of becoming independent. It’s an exciting time in one’s life, but we also acknowledge the fact that people who are just learning how to drive face more challenges than experienced drivers. This doesn’t just apply to teenagers, either.

In a recent article by the American Psychological Association (APA), data collected over multiple studies show that while teenagers and young adults are the age group with the highest number of car accidents, it is not solely due to their under-developed brains or unreadiness for adult responsibilities. The main factor that causes accidents in this age bracket is inexperience. According to Neale Kinnear, PhD, a lead behavioral psychologist at Humn in the United Kingdom:

Across countries (including nations that license at 18 instead of 16), the highest rate of crashes occurs when drivers first start piloting the car alone (McCartt, A. T., et al., Traffic Injury Prevention, Vol. 10, No. 3, 2009). The learner’s period, during which an experienced supervisor is always in the car, is remarkably safe. But the first 6 to 12 months after getting fully licensed are the most dangerous, on average.

What this means is, whether someone is 17 and learning to drive or 35 and learning to drive, if they have little experience behind the wheel, they very well may face the same level of risk and danger.

The failure to identify possible hazards

You can teach someone the rules of the road and the parts of a car. The inexperience of new drivers doesn’t seem to come from their lack of knowledge about such factors as those, but instead from their inability to recognize hazards that more experienced drivers would notice quickly and prepare for. Instructors can try to teach student drivers what to look out for, but it seems that the best way to learn to perceive hazards has to be in a way that connects to the learner’s emotions.

When we have to stop quickly for a pedestrian crossing the street, there is a jolt to our system – fear and surprise, a rush of adrenaline. After that first experience, we are more likely to anticipate and notice that pedestrian on the side of the road before they cross out in front of us. We recognize a possible hazard before it’s too late.

A new driver may not see a pedestrian standing on the curb as a possible hazard if they have not experienced how such a situation can become hazardous themselves. Dr. Kinnear stated it well, saying, “ultimately, by translating complex scenarios into feelings, we learn to anticipate risk and speed up decision-making.”

How can I help my new driver avoid accidents?

Parents and guardians are required to accompany their teens as they practice driving, and we think that it’s a good way to help them learn to drive safely. It is, but when parents are along for the trip, they often do a lot of the thinking of driving themselves instead of letting the new driver figure it out on their own.

Dr. Jessica Hafetz Mirman, a lecturer in applied psychology at the University of Edinburgh, said, “Often, parents teaching their children to drive take on much of the cognitive load of the task themselves. They will instruct teens on when to start a turn and when to brake, for example, and will scan the road for hazards themselves.” Of course, we can’t say the parents are wrong for doing this, but it helps the student less, and they fail to learn as well as they could be.

A way to fix this might be to, instead of sitting in the passenger seat while the teen drives, have them be the passenger as parent drives. David Crundall, a professor of psychology at Nottingham Trent University told the APA that:

…using a driving simulator did suggest that it could improve reaction time and reduce virtual crashes compared with no training, at least in the short term (Accident Analysis & Prevention, Vol. 42, No. 6, 2010). (Teens shouldn’t be asked to comment on hazards while they drive, Crundall warned—that task can too easily overwhelm them.)

Another practice parents can take to help their new drivers is to keep an eye out for distractions, such as the teenager’s phone or changing the music. As teenagers may not know when they need to be extra cautious and paying attention, they don’t take note of when road conditions should preclude them checking their phone – “they tend to give in to the distraction regardless of how challenging the driving environment.” To avoid this, there are apps available that keep a phone from being used while the car is in motion. Parents could also try drawing up driving contracts, describing what is to be expected of their teens while they drive, and detailing any consequences should expectations not be met.

This time in a teenager’s life (or in the life of any new driver) is scary and exciting, both for the teen and for the parents. Parents want their child to be as safe on the road as they can be, but sometimes the way we want to help our teens may not be the best way to keep them safe. In the end, we do our best, but sometimes accidents happen, and when they happen, it’s best to have an experienced and dedicated lawyer on your side. At Bailey & Greer, PLLC, we understand that your teen is still learning, and we will do everything we can to ensure that any penalties they might face are lenient in the face of their inexperience. If your teen was in a car accident, call us at 901-475-7434 or use our contact page. With offices in Memphis and Jackson, we are proud to serve families throughout west Tennessee.