Head Off Trouble
What can you do about it? After all, your busy brain–and the self-control it gives you–is still developing. You’ve got to figure out ways of using your noggin in order to avoid scrapes with the car and even tragedy.
Look outside yourself. Giedd, who has peered into many a teen brain, believes in your ability to regulate your driving, especially when you think of the friends you could hurt. “The teen brain is still highly plastic, or changeable,” he told Current Health. It has “many good things regarding the capacity to learn, an increased sense of social responsibility, and more.”
“Social responsibility” simply means your connections to everyone. “When you take risks on the road, you’re not just risking your life,” says Berardelli. Think of the other people in your car, in other vehicles, and on the street whom reckless driving could endanger.
Limit distractions. There’s real danger in grabbing a French fry from a crumpled fast-food bag or answering a phone while driving. Researchers at Vanderbilt University found that when a person is driving, the frontal cortex cannot process two tasks at once, no matter the driver’s age. When you drive, just drive.
“Anything extra beginning drivers do seems to increase the risk of accidents,” says Giedd. Dealing with someone else in the car divides attention too. That’s why many states limit the number of passengers–especially fellow teens–a new driver can take along.
Get your head in the right place. The ultimate in distracted driving is a driver on alcohol or drugs; it goes without saying that those are off-limits when there’s a chance you’ll be behind the wheel. However, you also need to see beyond the obvious and minimize emotional driving. Collect yourself and breathe deeply before taking off. You can even put something in the car–a meaningful object–to remind you that you intend to take driving to heart.
When you’re driving, your brain is riding shotgun. So let your knowledge of how the mind works help you manage distractions, sleep needs (see “Sleep Away,” above), and feelings. That way you can truly enjoy the ride.
Teenage Brain: A Work in Progress
The teen driver’s brain is traveling too–on the long road to maturity. The fact that these parts haven’t finished developing in adolescents can make getting behind the wheel risky for new drivers.
Drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 crashes annually. You don’t want to be in one of them! So check out these time-proven sleep tips from the National Sleep Foundation:
- Organize your life to make sleep a priority.
- Establish sleeping and waking times, and stick with them.
- Indulge in an afternoon nap, but don’t doze close to bedtime.
- Make your sleeping space cool, quiet, and dark.
- Realize that nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine will keep you awake.
- Get regular daytime exercise–that will help you sleep. But working out too close to bedtime can keep you awake.
- Create a bedtime ritual: Take a relaxing bath, read, or listen to quiet music.