From the Journals

New AAP policy statement addresses teen driver risks



The American Academy of Pediatric has issued a policy statement regarding teen drivers because, although becoming a driver is a rite of passage for many, there are unique risks associated with teen drivers – and important ways to address them.

A teenage female driver is shown behind the wheel of a car. Vladimir Piskunov/iStockphoto

“In 2015, among 15- to 20-year-old individuals, 1,886 young drivers died in MVCs [motor vehicle crashes], which is an increase of 9% from 2014,” the statement explains. “Another 195,000 young drivers were in MVCs, which is up 14% from 2014.”

Risk factors associated with crashes in teenage drivers include their inexperience, the presence of other teens in the car, high-speed and risky driving, distraction, lack of sleep, nighttime driving, and alcohol, marijuana, and medication use. Mobile phones and other electronic devices pose a major threat to driver safety because they contribute opportunities for three different kinds of distraction – visual, manual, and cognitive. Drug and alcohol use poses another threat; for example, tetrahydrocannabinol, found in marijuana, is associated with a 1.25 higher risk of crash, according Elizabeth M. Alderman, MD, and her associates on the Committee on Adolescence and the Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention who crafted the policy statement.

The policy statement also outlined several interventions to help mitigate these risks. Graduated driver licensing, which has been adopted in all 50 states, has helped reduce teen crashes by promoting skills development and reducing exposure to risky-driving situations. Parents can help model safer-driving practices and set expectations, as well as monitor and affect their teens’ driving behaviors during the supervised-driving phase. Driver education programs, on the other hand, counterintuitively have little effect on teen driving safety, which the authors suggested is because “the knowledge required to pass licensing exams is seldom related to an evidence-based understanding of the behaviors and skills associated with novice driver crash risk.” There also have been technological advances that can help improve driving safety among teenage drivers, such as automatic braking and lane-maintenance alerts.

“Policies, programs, and technologies exist to mitigate these risks but, in most cases, depend on active participation by the teenager and parents,” the authors concluded. “Pediatricians, communities, and governments need to take action to better educate teen drivers and their parents around these risks and strategies to reduce them.”

The full policy statement includes specific recommendations for anticipatory guidance, professional practice, community advocacy, and legislative advocacy. It also includes many resources and links to further information.

SOURCE: Alderman EM et al. Pediatrics. 2018 Oct;142(4):e20182163.

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