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Teen-driver accidents most likely in first month

Motor vehicle accidents among teenage drivers are most likely to occur within the first month after they obtain a driver's license, said the manager of AAA Traffic Safety.

John Pecchio said teens with only a month of driving expertise are approximately 50 percent more likely to get involved in an accident, than those with more experience.

An AAA Foundation analysis of crashes committed by new drivers in North Carolina found that three common mistakes were made: failure to reduce speed; being distracted from the road; and not yielding, he said. This accounted for 57 percent of accidents that involved teen motorists, who were driving during the first month after getting their license.

"We understand the crash rates of beginning drivers decrease with experience, but our new study tells us there are a few specific abilities, we as adults, could do a better job of helping teens develop, before they are allowed to drive independently," said Pecchio.

Researchers also found that some types of crashes took place at high rates initially, and then declined quickly with driving experience, he added. For instance, he said, crashes involving left-hand turns were typical for teens driving during their first few months, but immediately declined. Accidents that experienced a slower decrease were a result of not mastering certain driving skills, he said.

"The high initial rate, and subsequent steep decline, in certain types of crashes appeared to reflect teens' initial inexperience followed by rapid learning," he explained.

A related AAA Foundation study included in-vehicle cameras to watch 38 teens who were learning to drive with their parents, said Pecchio. These young drivers were also under camera surveillance for the first six months of independently driving with their license, he said.

"The research found that while teens had their learner's permits, routine trips on familiar roads under relatively easy driving conditions accounted for the bulk of the time spent behind the wheel," he said.

The study also concluded changes in behavior of teens, when parents were no longer supervising their driving. The camera caught some close calls due to mistakes likely caused by inexperience, coupled with texting while driving, horseplay with teen passengers, running red lights and other irresponsible behaviors, he said.

Parents should follow these steps to improve their child's driving safety:

• Practice. Once teenagers obtain their license, parents should continue to practice with them, said Pecchio. This will ensure that basic driving skills are mastered. Practice will also allow parents to introduce their teens to various driving conditions, including snow, congested traffic and rural roads.

• No passengers. Pecchio said crash risks increase when teen drivers are accompanied by teen passengers. Parents should set limits and consistently enforce them, he said.

• Reduced driving at night. Driving at night reduces visibility for a driver of any age, he stressed, and it's even more difficult for inexperienced teens. Teens should only be allowed to drive at night when it's absolutely necessary, or with a parent, he said.

• Continue setting rules. Parents should keep setting rules above and beyond their state's laws, Pecchio said. Rules should be placed for inclement weather, on highways, in cities or other driving conditions for inexperienced teen drivers. For information about a parent-teen driving agreement, visit teendriving.AAA.com, he said.

Pecchio said the AAA Foundation commissioned University of North Carolina Highway Safety to conduct both studies. The studies were done from Jan. 1, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2008.