UI officials study teen driving


In a presentation Wednesday night, University of Iowa faculty members shared the results from their study on teen driving and how parents can help reduce teen-driving crashes.

Corinne Peek-Asa, a UI professor of occupational and environmental health and the director of the UI Injury Prevention Research Center, said she believes teens can be great drivers, but they are developmentally unprepared.

“When you think about the combination of inexperience as well as immaturity, [then] you have the perfect storm,” she said.

Motor-vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Daniel McGehee, the director at the human factors and vehicle safety research program of the UI Pubic Policy Center, said in the study they placed cameras in the cars of 150 teen drivers. The camera would only film inside the car if triggered by the teen turning or braking hard.

The footage was then reviewed to determine what had caused the sudden jerk. McGehee found more passengers increase the risk of a crash.

He said that with two teen passengers, the risk is nearly doubled. He gathered four primary reasons for teen crashes from his findings: passengers, inexperience, text messaging, and external distractions.

“Where teens are most vulnerable is that they tend to overestimate their abilities to complete the task at hand,” McGehee said. “But the most important factor is passengers; teens often implicitly trust passengers to give them advice.”

The Iowa Legislature has previously taken steps to reduce this risk. The new graduated driver’s license law in Iowa, which will go into effect in 2014, will call for 12 months of driving under a permit with a parent — or 50 hours of driving — and will restrict the number of passengers in the car to one non-sibling under the age of 18 in the six months following drivers obtaining their official licenses. Currently, teens can acquire a permit at age 14, but this will be changed to 16.

Peek-Asa has developed a program called “Steering Teens Safe.” The program instructs parents on techniques for effectively communicating with their children about driving.

“Parents have perceived the requirement of driver’s ed to mean that, ‘Oh, driver’s ed will take care of it so I don’t have to work with them anymore,’ ” Peek-Asa said. “So over time, parents have backed off and for a good reason. Communications studies reported that the most conflicted conversations parents have with their teens are about driving.”

As part of the program, Peek-Asa encouraged motivational interviewing including open-ended questions, affirmations, reflective listening, and summarizing outlined.

McGehee said he believes the study showed profound changes in how teens approach driving.

“We’re interested in increasing communication between parents and teens, and I think it starts a useful discussion between good and bad driving,” McGehee said.

Peek-Asa reported reduced risk driving as a result of the interventions from “Steering Teens Safe.” 

Despite their unsuccessful efforts to install this program into schools, Peek-Asa said the program is now available to Grinnell Mutual, ACT, and Procter & Gamble as a workplace wellness program.

Iowa City resident Matthew Bricker, an audience member at the presentation, said he believed the law against having more than one other person in the car for the first six months would cause more crowding on the streets, but his his views have changed because the study.

“I see from the videos the other side of the argument,” Bricker said. “And it’s something that almost everyone goes through when they’re growing up, so I think it’s in society’s best interest to look at this. It affects everyone.”

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