JAN 30, 2015 12:00 AM PST

System Reduces Teen Driving Accidents

The National Center for Health Statistics says that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 15- to 20-year olds in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seven 16- to 19-year-olds die every day as a result of injuries incurred from road crashes.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a report in May 2012 that showed that the risk of 16- or 17-year old drivers being killed in a crash increases with each additional teenage passenger in the vehicle. The risk increases 44 percent with one passenger; doubles with two passengers and quadruples with three or more passengers. The study analyzed crash data, as well as the number of miles driven by 16- and 17-year olds.

National studies of graduated licensing found that strong laws were associated with substantially lower fatal crash rates and substantially lower insurance claim rates among young teen drivers covered by the laws. While strong restrictions on nighttime driving and teen passengers, as well as raising the licensing age, reduced rates of fatal crashes and insurance collision claims, attempts to address the problem through legislation and technological innovation have yielded limited results.

A recent study by Tel Aviv University researchers in Israel recommends a two-pronged strategy of vigilant parental intervention and monitoring technology to improve the safety of young drivers on the road. Published recently in the Journal of Adolescence, the research was conducted by Prof. Haim Omer of TAU's School of Psychological Sciences and conducted by Dr. Yaara Shimshoni, in collaboration with Or Yarok of the Association for Safer Driving in Israel.

As Prof. Omer explained, "We have shown that it is possible to reduce dangerous driving in young drivers by increasing parental involvement in a positive way. Our program is based on a model of parental involvement called ‘Vigilant Care,' shown to be effective in reducing risky behavior exhibited in other fields. According to this model, parents remain non-invasively involved in their youngsters' activities, but are poised to increase their level of involvement at the first signs of danger."

Emphasizing both parental intervention to reduce risky behavior as well as a nurturing environment in which to introduce the involvement, "Vigilant Care," lies at the heart of the model of parental guidance. Before the study, some parents received training in Prof. Omer's program.

For the study, 242 families of adolescent drivers installed In-Vehicle Data Recorders (IVDRs) that monitor driving in real time and offer feedback on risk patterns in the cars. Families were assigned to one of four groups that differed according to type of IVDR feedback and level of parental intervention: 1) IVDR feedback to the entire family that led to parental intervention through their "Vigilant Care" training; 2) IVDR feedback to the entire family that did not lead to parental intervention; 3) individual IVDR feedback without parental guidance; and 4) neither IVDR feedback nor parental involvement.

For instance, a young driver would be required to send a text message to his parents upon arriving at his destination and once again before midnight. This methodology was designed to keep the parents were certain to remain on their son's mind, one of the protective mechanisms at the heart of the program. Parents would also hold "driving chats" with their son on a weekly basis, sitting together to plan trips to new destinations. Thus, the new driver was constantly reminded of his parents while driving. One of the teens said, "I felt as though someone was sitting by my side, even though I was alone in the car."

Prof. Omer said, "In past studies, ‘Vigilant Care' has been shown to reduce risky behavior in many areas of child development. However, the difficult challenge here was to amend and apply the model to an older and normative population of young adults."

After following the teen drivers and the four groups for three months at a time, the researchers found that the drivers whose parents had received "Vigilant Care" training and who had also received family-wide IVDR feedback significantly improved their behavior behind the wheel. It was determined that the combined technological monitoring plus intervention was most effective for drivers who exhibited the riskiest behavior.

Dr. Shimshoni concluded, "We have shown that the combination of technology and ‘Vigilant Care' can meet the challenge of dangerous teen driving. "This is the first study in which a systematic, theory-based intervention for parental involvement in teen driving was found to be effective."

Prof. Omer, together with Or Yarok, is currently adapting and extending the "Vigilant Care" intervention to address the needs of different populations.
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
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