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Do teen drivers really learn their lesson after a crash?

The unfortunate reality for most adults is that lessons are most often learned from the direct consequences of failing to heed warnings. For example, a person may start to exercise and diet religiously only after suffering a heart attack that their physician warned was a real possibility, or set aside money for home repairs only after their roof starts leaking just like the contractor warned it would.

While adults are willing to learn from these hard lessons, there's always been some question as to whether teens share this same ability, or are prevented from doing so because of their inexperience or relative immaturity. Interestingly enough, a group of researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health recently set out to examine this issue in greater detail, exploring whether teen drivers involved in serious collisions were likely to become better behind the wheel in the wake of their near miss.

How was the study structured?

The NIH researchers used data on 254 16- and 17-year-old drivers involved in the Strategic Highway Initiative Program 2, a ongoing research effort being undertaken by the Federal Highway Administration that saw participant's vehicles equipped with cameras and accelerometers.

Specifically, they examined the before-and-after behavior of teen drivers who had been involved in car accidents that were reported to the police, and resulted in rollovers, airbag deployment, injuries or significant damage.

What did they find?

Encouragingly, they found that for the first two months following the severe collisions, the rates of so-called high-acceleration events -- fast turns, stops and other aggressive maneuvers -- declined by 34 percent among the teen drivers.

While the rates increased somewhat after the two-month period, they still remained below pre-collision levels, suggesting that a lesson had indeed been learned.

What's next?

Given these somewhat surprising results and the ready availability of quality data, the researchers indicated that they would be expanding the study to determine whether comparable rates are observed after teen driver involvement in less severe collisions.

If you've been seriously injured in a car accident caused by the negligence of any driver -- regardless of age -- consider speaking with a skilled legal professional to learn more about your options.

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