(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)


Column: The consequences of negatively stereotyping teen drivers

Teenagers may have a negative stereotype with regard to driving, but there are many responsible teen drivers.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/julleapowell/" target="_self">Jullea Powell</a>

Jullea Powell

May 12, 2022
The best gift for a 15-year-old is Richard Kasper’s book “Driving With A Teenage Brain: A State Trooper’s Notes On How To Stay Alive.” Why?

According to the CDC, in 2019, about 2,400 teens in the United States between the ages of 13-19 were killed, and about 258,000 were treated in emergency departments as a result of motor vehicle crashes. Teenagers may be tiny, but can cause a mighty amount of damage, as motor vehicle crash deaths of teenagers 15-19 years old amassed $4.8 billion dollars of damages, including medical and work loss costs, in 2018. 

However, the solution to reckless teen driving isn’t as simple as having authority figures repeatedly yell at teens to “be responsible.” Teenagers lack a fully developed frontal lobe, which is the part of the brain responsible for motor skills and cognitive processes, including complex maneuvers, decision making, and emotional responses.

According to Bruce Simmons-Morton, senior investigator at NICHD teen drivers are more likely to engage in risky behaviors including speeding and unsafe lane changes, being less likely to make rational decisions in emotional situations due to this underdeveloped frontal lobe.

Most teens tend to drive alone or with one passenger, but teens are at a higher risk when they drive with multiple teen passengers, as they are more likely to engage in secondary tasks more frequently, compounding the risk. He adds: “Once you have three teens in the car, the crash rate is three to four times higher than with a teen driving alone.” 

Even though teenagers have underdeveloped brains, they are still subject to the full consequence of an at-fault accident — an increase in insurance rates due to insurance surcharges.

CarInsurance.com reported that insurance surcharges will likely cause rates to increase by 12% to 80%. While there may be financial consequences for reckless driving, there are financial rewards to incentivize teens to drive carefully. Completing a defensive driving course could save up to 10% on car insurance rates.

Depending on the insurance company, an additional discount is sometimes available to teens with a good academic record and good transcripts.

Many insurance companies offer a “good student discount,” which typically has a prerequisite of obtaining a GPA of 3.0 or higher. The younger the driver, the more expensive the car insurance. According to Insurance.com, the younger aged drivers are far more likely to get into car accidents compared to older drivers, and this correlates to the lowered annual insurance rates based on age:

  • 16-year-old – $3,989
  • 17-year-old – $3,522
  • 18-year-old – $3,148
  • 19-year-old – $2,178
  • 20-year-old – $1,945

Teenagers may have a negative stereotype with regard to driving, but there are many responsible teen drivers, even if they have underdeveloped frontal lobes. The records — and insurance rates — of teen drivers speak for themselves.

While the book “Driving With A Teenage Brain: A State Trooper’s Notes On How To Stay Alive” may help a teen driver gain more knowledge about driving to become a better driver, the neuroscience and psychology behind teenage brain development pose larger causation for teenage recklessness than solely an irresponsible mindset.

Reckless teen drivers could face irreversible physical injuries, total or damage their cars, harm others and be left with a heightened insurance rate that could last for years to come. Responsible drivers, aside from keeping themselves and others safe, can gradually save money over time through discounted insurance, keeping a shiny car as well as a shiny bank account.