Harvard Mental Health Letter

Preventing driving accidents involving teenagers

Behavioral strategies parents can use to reduce their children's risk of injury or death.

Motor vehicle accidents remain the leading cause of death for teenagers, accounting for nearly 41% of fatalities in 2004 among young people ages 13 to 19. This deadly toll results, to a large extent, from lack of driving experience, but it also reflects the fact that the teenage brain is still a work in progress. The prefrontal cortex, which contains the neural mechanisms of self-control, is one of the last parts of the brain to mature. As a result, teenagers are prone to risk taking, impulsive behavior, and sensation seeking — all of which can cause trouble behind the wheel of a two- or three-ton vehicle hurtling down a highway.

One possible solution is to increase the age requirement for driver's licenses to 17 or 18. But there is no consensus that this will reduce crash rates.

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