Teen Drivers Prone to 'G-Force' Errors, Researchers
THURSDAY, Oct. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Crash experts studying why
newly licensed teenagers have many more accidents than adults have
zeroed in on the elevated gravitational forces, or "g-forces,"
caused by braking late, swerving abruptly and other common
These judgment-related maneuvers make losing vehicle control
more likely and leave less time to react to hazards, said
researchers with the U.S. National Institutes of Health. They also
limit the ability of nearby drivers to take corrective
To explore the young-driver dynamic, the NIH team studied 42
newly licensed teens -- 22 females and 20 males -- who attended
high school or home school in Virginia. For comparative purposes,
the researchers also assessed the driving habits of 55 parents
operating the same vehicles. All were tracked for a total of 18
months between 2006 and 2008.
"This is the first naturalistic or objective assessment of teenage risky driving," explained Bruce G. Simons-Morton of the division of epidemiology, statistics and prevention research at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the NIH.
"Sadly, it points out the teenage driving dilemma, which is that newly licensed drivers of all ages, but particularly teenagers, are a high risk for accidents early on," he said.
Simons-Morton, who spoke Thursday morning at an NIH
teleconference, is the lead author of the study published online
Oct. 20 in the
American Journal of Public Health.
Novice teen drivers are almost four times as likely to end up in
a car accident or close-call as adult drivers, the study found. And
risky driving is five times more prevalent among new teen drivers,
as compared with older, experienced drivers. Even a year or more
out, as young drivers gain experience, their risky driving behavior
persists, with accident rates remaining several times that of
adults, the study found.
For the study, within three weeks of the teens acquiring a
provisional license, their cars were outfitted with surveillance
systems to collect information on acceleration and mileage.
Internal and external video were also installed to monitor the
driver's face, dashboard and hand action, as well as the unfolding
rear and front roadway.
Over the study period, the teens experienced higher rates of
crashes or near-crashes compared with parents -- 37 crashes and 242
near-crashes versus just 2 crashes and 32 close-calls among the
The spread was driven by the much higher g-forces at play
whenever teens took the wheel. For example, teens engaged in sharp
turning 25 to 30 times more often than their parents, Simons-Morton
The sort of risky driving behavior, including excessively fast
acceleration, that prompts g-force spikes did not subside among
teen drivers, despite a significant drop in accident risk. Indeed,
while lower at the study's conclusion than at its outset, accident
risk remained markedly above that of the adult drivers, who almost
never experienced a g-force event. The parents' rate of incidents
remained steady throughout the study period.
The NIH team concluded that their work generated "no support for
the contention that risky driving declines with experience and that
adolescents learn to reduce risky driving behavior."
Simons-Morton said it remains unclear why teens maintain
dangerous driving habits, hypothesizing that as they get better at
handling risky g-force maneuvering, young drivers keep it up,
either because they think it's "fun" or are "simply clueless" about
related safety concerns.
Ultimately, it can take years before accident risk of teens
finally matches that of experienced adult drivers, the study
As a result, parents should be pro-active about limiting the
number of passengers their children drive with, and curtailing
late-night driving and the use of high-speed roads and electronic
devices, Simons-Morton said.
Car accidents are the number one cause of death and disability
among teens, with crash risk at its peak the very moment young
drivers obtain their licenses, the researchers said.
For more on teens and driving, visit the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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