Timothy Hollister is an attorney and teen safety advocate in Connecticut. Author of Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through Dangers of Driving, he has been a rational voice promoting better teen driving education and increased awareness of parents' role in keeping their children safe behind the wheel.
The human brain's ability to function is not complete until we reach about age 25.
What do these unchangeable characteristics mean for you as a new driver? Here's a concrete example. You're on a two lane road, with the opposite lane's traffic coming toward you.
Here's the difference between a new teen driver and a mid-20's driver with several years of experience: when a young driver makes this snap decision, the brain does not signal, or at least doesn't send an urgent warning, about the danger of not getting back into lane.
On top of this, a new driver's ability to evaluate the relative speeds of the three vehicles is shaky at best and guesswork at worst, because this is not a situation that can be taught or practiced in Driver's Ed – it's too risky.
The teen driver pulls into the left lane and guns the engine, trying to stay in lane while also reevaluating, second by second, the relative positions and speeds of the van, the truck, and the car. It either works or a serious crash results, all because of what the new teen driver doesn't have and can't summon on demand, judgment and experience.
In fact, in my home state of Connecticut in 2007, a 17 year old driver trying to pass and get back into the right lane misjudged and killed himself, his sister, and his sister's friend, driving after school.
Every teen passenger in your car increases the risk of peer pressure to drive recklessly. Alcohol, drugs, and anything that slows or eliminates reaction time, coordination, or judgment make an already dangerous situation worse.
Wisdom for teen drivers, then, is 1) recognizing the baseline dangers you can't avoid; and 2) taking on the PACTS dangers as an ingrained habit, by limiting passengers, avoiding alcohol and drugs, getting off the road early or when you are tired, using electronics only when you have pulled over or stopped, and demanding seat belts of yourself and everyone in your car.
Anyone can drive a car. Neglecting the PACTS dangers is easy. Breaking traffic safety and teen driver laws can be a momentary thrill. The best way you can show others that you are on your way to becoming a responsible adult is to take the risks of driving seriously.
In a very real way, teen driving laws and the work of so many people who try to keep new drivers safe have one goal: to help you understand what you can and can't change about driving, and apply this wisdom through your teens and early twenties.