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Newly Licensed Drivers and the Risk of Crashes: It’s No Time to Relax

My Facebook friends have lots of horror stories about their newly licensed drivers: A careful student driver got her license and the next thing you know, she shattered a passenger-side window while parallel parking into a tree. Another new driver fiddled with the car radio and didn’t notice as he slowly crashed into the car in front of him. A third teen, not fully aware of how wide her vehicle was, scraped all the side mirrors off a street’s length of parked cars.

A 2018 study by the National Institutes of Health puts these anecdotes into statistical context.

In the first three months after receiving their driver’s license, new drivers are eight times more likely to get into an accident or near-crash than they were in the last three months of driving with a learner’s permit. 

It’s always exciting to celebrate a new drivers license. It’s the end of chauffeuring for parents and a newfound freedom for both parents and their teens. Still, parents of these new drivers might not want to let go just yet. 

“I like to remind parents that they are in charge,” says Bernadette Lyons of Parkway Driving School in Boston, which offers classes for parents of student drivers. “Make a driving contract with your child, and, regardless of the law, set your own driving curfew of 9 or 10 p.m., or tell them they can’t be driving with their friends for a year.” Lyons also points out that there are devices that can track your car and monitor speed and location to keep an eye on your teen when they’re behind the wheel.

Each teenager is different, and there’s no definitive answer about when risky driving significantly declines. But this much is clear: For the newly licensed driver, parents are still their teens’ best mentors in safe driving.

Jack Cheng

Jack Cheng directs the Clemente Course in the Humanities in Boston. Follow him on twitter @jakcheng or on Facebook.