Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pottstown teen driving tragedies move HB 67 legislation forward

It's every parents' nightmare. The unthinkable. Losing a child is probably the single worst thing that can happen in a parent's life. And it is happening - all too often.

The series that appeared in The Pottstown Mercury "Teens and Cars: Tragedy in Numbers"  (, provided a wealth of information regarding teen driving and highlighted the tragedies that several area families endured when they lost their children to automobile accidents.

Among other new requirements, proposed legislation, HB 67, would limit the number of non-family passengers in the car. This will serve to decrease the level of distraction in the car and assist young drivers in making better choices while they are behind the wheel.

But these tragedies underscore one fact: Adolescent brains process information differently than adults. Research by neuropsychologist Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, Ph.D., at Harvard University, uses neuroimaging to examine the developing brain. What this research found can help explain adolescent qualities, such as impulsive behavior, increased social anxiety and poor judgement.  According to Yurgelun-Todd, teens do not have the brain structures in place to think things through in the same way as adults. The teen's developing brain, in particular, something called the prefrontal cortex, is responsible for decision-making, insight, and judgement. While the researchers acknowledge that these real differences in the brain do not fully account for the reasons that kids make poor judgements, but it does lend some important clues.

What we can take away from this research, and apply in everyday life, is that while teens can seem mature, intelligent and responsible, their developing brains are not fully equipped to respond to the complex situations they confront when they are behind the wheel of a car, with several of their friends, with radio playing, texting and cell phones in use. They can become more anxious, more distracted, and respond in more impulsive ways. This can further be compounded by peer pressure, drug/alcohol use, bad weather and road conditions, sun glare, and other factors.

The website provides information for parents and here you can find a Driving Contract. that you can use with your teens.

Their "Parents Section" provides useful information for parents who are teaching their teens to drive. They stress several important points:

* Know the rules - As a teacher, and mentor, it is crucial that parents know the rules of the road in their state.  Do your reasearch and be prepared for questions from kids when you are teaching them to drive. is a website that provides links to driving sites in the United States and Canada.
* Be a role model - As a driver, following the rules of the road applies to everyone, and sending that clear message to teens is important. Just as our children learn to walk, talk and tie their shoes from parents, they also learn their driving style and habits.
* Set the rules for driving, and enforce them - Just as you do with anything else, there must be rules about driving and you must be willing to enforce these rules. Getting their driver's license is a great thrill, a rite of passage, and also a great responsibility.  Set rules for curfew, number of passengers, approved destinations, etc., and follow up to ensure the rules are followed.
*Talk to your kids about safe driving - Most teens will not approach their parents with questions. No matter how close you think you are to your kids, you MUST start the discussion. Be sure to cover important topics, such as distracted driving (texting, phone calls, radio, makeup, eating), drug/alcohol use, procedures for emergencies, etc).
*Before your teen goes solo, be sure they have the training they need - Driver safety classes and experience on the road, with an adult, cannot be overstated.  As with any other skill:

Practice, Practice, Practice!!!

If you are having trouble with your teen, ASK FOR HELP!

Information regarding Pennsylvania's House Bill 67 can be found at the following:


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