By Andrew M. Seaman
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A Web-based program for parents and teens may maximize the time they spend together on driving instructions, and ultimately make teens safer drivers, according to a new study.
The online program, which emphasizes practice, planning and evaluation, resulted in the teens spending more time behind the wheel and failing fewer driving tests compared to their peers using a standard state-issued manual.
“We want to help families make the most out of their practice hours,” Jessica Mirman said. “States require that teens get a certain number of hours to complete their practice so why not make them less stressful and more useful and (the TeenDrivingPlan) can help with that.”
Mirman is the study’s lead author and a developmental psychologist at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen drivers are about three times more likely to die in a crash, compared to those 20 years old or more.
Mirman and her colleagues write in JAMA Pediatrics online June 23 that graduated driver licensing programs that allow young people to obtain drivers licenses with training over time have been shown to be effective at reducing crashes and deaths among young drivers.
But parents' interest in training young drivers varies and other studies have found that parents are often unfamiliar with specific requirements for attaining the license.
To test a program designed to structure the parent-child training process, the researchers randomly assigned 217 parent and child pairs from the Philadelphia area to take part in the TeenDrivingPlan (TDP) or to simply use the Pennsylvania driver’s manual.
TDP has three components, one of which is a set of short video tutorials showing parents specific activities to use during training with their teens. Another component includes plans for the training process and the third focuses on keeping track of practice time and driving improvement.
The families received a telephone call if the computer system noticed they had not logged into their accounts for a while.
The study was paid for by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company.
Overall, 86 parent-child pairs completed the TDP program and 65 pairs finished training using the manual.
After 24 weeks of the study, the researchers found that teens in the TDP group got more driving practice in empty parking lots and residential neighborhoods, and on one- or two-lane roads and rural and commercial roads.
Only 6% of the teens in the TDP group ended up having their driving test stopped early at the end of the study because of poor driving. That compared to 15% of teens who used the traditional manual.
Arthur Goodwin, who has researched teen driving programs but wasn’t involved in the new study, said TDP is an intriguing program that may have promise. He cautioned that the study doesn’t show the program improves teen driver safety, however.
“It doesn’t say these teens were better drivers or better prepared,” said Goodwin, a senior research associate with The University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center in Chapel Hill. “It simply says this program appeared to weed out those truly awful drivers.”
Corinne Peek-Asa, director of the Injury Prevention Research Center at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, said TDP is an example of a growing number of programs aiming to better prepare teen drivers. She called TDP very practical.
“The fact that it’s Web-based makes it accessible to a wide audience,” said Peek-Asa, who co-wrote an editorial accompanying the new study. “It’s scalable. Potentially any parent can get access to this material.”
While the program is not yet available online, Mirman said they hope to release components of the program to the public by the end of the year.
She added that future research may look at how to pair TDP with other programs to reduce risky driving behaviors.
“We want to figure out how to connect TDP with families so that it’s used effectively,” she said.
JAMA Pediatrics 2014.