I've seen articles saying that teen drivers have the most accidents out of every age group. Those articles also claim that teen drivers are less capable of driving as their brains are less developed than someone 25 years of age or older.

Are these claims that younger people are less capable drivers true?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Could you link to that source that claims that teens are less capable drivers? Also, this question may be a better fit for Psychology & Neuroscience. $\endgroup$
    – michaelpri
    Aug 2 '15 at 4:55
  • $\begingroup$ I would like to add that from my reading, driving is a difficult skill until it is practiced to the point where it is done subconsciously and no conscious attention is paid to the process. To get to that point, a person requires experience and owning a car. A teenager who drives parent's car part time might not have enough time to get driving experience. $\endgroup$
    – Alex Stone
    Aug 7 '15 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ I think it would be tough to pinpoint an exact answer on this. There are too many confounding variables. But I would generally chalk it up to lack of experience for a number of reasons. Experience is powerful training on the road. $\endgroup$
    – theMayer
    Aug 11 '15 at 3:24

Research shows that teenagers are not any less capable at driving, per se, but that the adolescent brain undergoes a period of neural changes that often lends itself to risk-seeking behavior. From Somerville et. al (2010):

In adolescence, there is a heightened propensity to engage in risky behaviors that can lead to negative outcomes, including substance abuse, unprotected sex, inflicting harm on others, injuries, and death. According to the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS, Eaton, et al., 2008) the four leading causes of death that account for 72% of adolescent mortality – motor vehicle accidents, unintentional injuries, homicide, and suicide - are preventable. Such statistics suggest that these fatalities may be attributed, in part, to poor choices or risky actions (e.g., accidents, injuries) and/or heightened emotionality (e.g., suicide) underscoring the importance of understanding the biological basis of emotional and incentive-seeking behavior of adolescents, the focus of the present review.

The paper goes on to discuss how the intensity of young adults' emotional states relative to those of adults, as well as a heightened sensitivity toward reward (as well as an immature 'self-regulatory competence') are all underlying factors.

I think that this is what your article is referring to when it mentions that teenagers have 'less-developed brains'. On the other hand, one could argue the opposite. With puberty and adolescent development comes an influx of hormonal changes. With these changes come developments and mental states that are novel, new, and (at first) difficult to control. From this perspective, it is less a question of the brain being 'less-developed' -- on the contrary, there is 'too much' new development in puberty and adolescence, which can be overwhelming. As we learn to cope with these new developments with time and experience, they become easier to manage and control.

  • $\begingroup$ Could you rewrite the third paragraph? It took me a couple reads because there's so much going on. $\endgroup$
    – Ivo3185
    Aug 8 '15 at 23:21
  • $\begingroup$ I rewrote the third paragraph. Let me know if it is still hard to read. $\endgroup$ Aug 9 '15 at 5:27

As I mentioned in my comment, I would be less likely to blame this on brain chemistry and more likely to blame it on lack of experience. While I have not reviewed the research, it would be very difficult to isolate a mental development pattern from all the other confounding variables of young drivers.

First, driving is inherently a procedural task. It takes time to develop those skills to the point of automaticity, so there is a somewhat higher level of attention and resources being devoted to the mere mechanics of driving.

Second, our ability to respond to dynamic situations is dependent upon our brain recognizing those situations and responding in a preprogrammed fashion. This is also something that cannot be learned other than through time on the road. For example, I learned that it is not a good idea to drive next to someone on the freeway, matching their speed, because they could suddenly decide to switch lanes. I learned that from experience, and it has helped me avoid numerous accidents.

Third, we have to consider the propensity of younger folks to want to engage in stupid things, like texting and driving. While people of all ages do this, there are plenty of reasons to point to younger generations being more active with their texting and other apps that can create major distractions.

Young drivers simply don't have the motor skills, coordination, and mental preparation that older drivers do. They also have more distractions. This doesn't mean that there are some young drivers who couldn't outdrive older drivers, nor does it mean that all older drivers are reasonable drivers. There is a lot of variation.


The most important reason for this is the risk behavior described by Sydney Maples.

In addition, young adolescents simply do not have as much experience as older people - they just recently got their license. They have less practical exercise and less experience about dealing with any specific challenge. They also might be curious and try out behavior that older people have already tried out - and stopped doing.

These two points mean that even a future world champion race driver might have higher than average risk of accidents while in adolescent age.


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