Motivating Teens to be Safer Drivers

Motivating Teens to be Safer Drivers

Motivating Teens to be Safer Drivers

Crashes are most likely to occur during the first six months of driving.

Dr. Corinne Peek-Asa, director of the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center, spent over 25 years working to improve roadway safety in the U.S. and abroad through research and advocacy. Her areas of expertise include teen driving, rural road safety and in-vehicle technology to promote safer driving. Peek-Asa is also Associate Dean for Research at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

Motor vehicle crashes are more likely to occur during the first six months of driving and are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the U.S.

However, our knowledge of how the teenage brain works is helping us find ways to motivate teens to be safer drivers.

The challenge has been how to influence teen driving in a developmentally appropriate way. Teenage brains have a very active emotional center, while the intellectual area of the brain is also developing at a very fast pace, enabling them to be increasingly sophisticated in deduction, logic and reasoning.

As these two brain areas reach maturity, they also increase in their connectivity, allowing mature decision-making to begin. However, this process takes time and practice, and these brain areas are not fully mature until teenagers reach their early 20’s.

What this means for teen drivers: teens need practice to learn driving skills, but also to focus their attention on the driving tasks. What this means for parents wanting to teach safer driving to their children: Teens by nature will resist rules. Even though communication about driving between parents and teens is often fraught with conflict, parental influence is critical for safer driving.

The University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center (UI IPRC) developed Steering Teens Safe, a program that uses motivational interviewing — a health behavior communication technique to help parents communicate with their teens about safe driving. It does this by:

  1. building motivation to change behavior without coercion or pressures
  2. focusing on the perspective of the teen whose behavior the parent is trying to help change

Our studies show this program increases safer driving behaviors and improves the quality and quantity of communication to motivate teens to choose safer driving behaviors.

The online version of Steering Teens Safe will be available to the public soon and has over 20 lessons for parents around talking with their teens about topics like safe driver and passenger behavior, driving rules and expectations and driving skills for rural roads.

To learn more about Steering Teens Safe and the UI IPRC, go to


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