Are teen drivers careless on road — or clueless?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 15, 2014

Are teen drivers killing themselves and others because they are careless or because they are clueless?
Turns out the answer is clueless — because our national driver training programs have not adopted specific training techniques that could go a long way toward fixing the problem. This is a national problem with a local solution that could make great strides toward making our nation healthier while lowering taxes.
According to the National Safety Council, in the United States we see more than 35,000 deaths from auto accidents and 3.8 million injuries requiring medical attention. The total cost of all of this pain and suffering is around $267 billion — more than the total of the interest on our national debt, federal aid to education and federally funded scientific and medical research combined!
Drivers in their first year behind the wheel are 10 times more likely to be in a crash than for the entire rest of their driving career. Car crashes are the No. 1 one cause of death among teens.

Traffic accidents have two main causes. Hardware failure like faulty car design and tire blowouts cause around 1 in 20 of all accidents. Driver’s behavior (failing to see risk unfolding, drinking, speeding or texting) cause the other 19 out of 20. Many of these could be avoided if driver training took advantage of the latest discoveries about how to improve driver education.
Starting about 10 years ago, researchers began to ask themselves whether teen crash rates were caused by not knowing what to do, or by knowing what to do but not doing it. A lot of people thought it was the second. Not so. Turns out most student drivers are not taught some key tools for avoiding accidents.
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Arbella Insurance Human Performance Laboratory set up some very interesting research to figure out why new drivers were such a threat to themselves and others. Previous research found that in almost half of all crashes involving new drivers, the drivers had failed to pay enough attention to the rear, the side and the road in front of the car before them.
Starting in 2006, the research team created high risk visual scenes set in a virtual world. To evaluate the effects of experience, novice and experienced drivers try to navigate through the scenarios on an advanced driving simulator. Using cameras that tracked the drivers’ eye movements, the researchers were able to pinpoint that new drivers did not look for danger where more experienced drivers did.
Taking this knowledge, the UMass Amherst team created a PC-based one hour training program that taught the youngsters to look in specific places where risk might come from. It is called RAPT ( The students got the one hour training, and got their licenses.

Six months later, those students who went through the RAPT training anticipated hazardous situations 62 percent of the time on the open road, but a similar group of drivers who did not get the training spotted the hazard only 38 percent of the time!
State Farm Insurance’s website has a version of the training for use by anyone. You can see it at
The American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association has a mature peer reviewed national curricula for student drivers. However, it does not include the content covered in the RAPT program. So we have a proven tool that changes the behavior of beginning drivers very effectively, but we do not deploy it very well.
If companies like State Farm and foundations like Arbella can adopt these training programs and reduce the risk to our kids and ourselves, so can our local schools and driver training institutions. We just need to add the already proven one-hour training program to our existing drivers education efforts.
You can help. Forward this article to parents of teens about to learn to drive, so they become aware of the training opportunity on the web. Tell your church youth program. And let your schools know of the opportunity.
Working together we can save lives, make a healthier society, and lower taxes which pay for repairing damaged roads , bridges, and bodies.
To see the sources of facts used in this article, and learn of other successful money and life saving programs that can be implemented locally to create a better future for our country, go to