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The Joy of Driving for Teens

The ability to drive is a privilege as well as a responsibility.

Key points

  • Teen drivers between 16 and 19 are three times as likely to die in a car crash than adults.
  • Aggressive driving is more likely to occur when teens are driving in the presence of other teens.
  • Compared to adults, teens cannot rely as much on their frontal lobes to enhance their emotional regulation.
Source: Karelnoppe/Shutterstock

Obtaining a driver's license is a rite of passage for many teenagers in the Western world. Securing a license signifies independence and a big step toward adulthood.

Sometimes, teenagers chafe at the initial restrictions imposed on their driving, such requirements that they be accompanied by a licensed adult before they are issued a provisional license, restrictions on driving at night, and not being able to give rides to other teenagers.

When teens bring up the topic of driving, we discuss the following sobering statistics:

  • Teen drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are three times as likely to die in a car crash than people 20 years or older.
  • Aggressive driving is more likely to occur when teens are driving in the presence of other teens and especially when a male driver is in the presence of a female passenger.
  • Teenage crashes most often occur between 3 and 4 p.m., when teens leave school.
  • More than a third of teen crashes involve front-to-rear crashes, which most often occur because of distracted driving, such as related to texting or interacting with passengers.

We discuss why teens are more prone to serious car accidents and that this is the reason car insurance is very expensive for teen drivers. Most teens rightfully identify that they are inexperienced drivers. Some suggest that teens like to show off to their friends and, therefore, may not drive carefully.

I point out that teens' frontal lobes require an additional decade of maturation before they become fully developed. This means that compared to adults, teens cannot rely as much on their frontal lobes to curb their impulsive decisions, reduce risk-taking behavior, minimize distractibility, and enhance their emotional regulation. Unfortunately, all these factors predispose teens to make more dangerous decisions while driving.

In this light, I encourage teens to drive carefully and cautiously. Some tips for this include:

  • Obey the traffic laws, including speed limits, traffic signals, and road signs.
  • Stay a safe distance behind the car in front of you.
  • Be careful during stop-and-go traffic to avoid fender benders.
  • Stay alert. If you feel tired, pull over and take a short nap.
  • Avoid driving late at night when there is less visibility, and other drivers may not drive as safely (e.g., drunk drivers).
  • Adjust to weather conditions. If the roads are wet or covered with ice or snow, be sure to slow down.
  • Stay calm, even if other drivers are not driving safely, such as cutting closely in front of you. Remember that the actions of other drivers may relate to their having a lot on their minds rather than trying to upset you.

Subconscious Opinions About Driving

Talking to teens about their driving at both the conscious and subconscious levels has yielded some surprising and illuminating responses.

Teens who are especially adept in doing hypnosis (termed "highly hypnotizable") typically cannot consciously recall responses given by the subconscious. Thus, in the case examples below, when I posed the same question first to the subconscious and then to the conscious of two 16-year-old teenagers, "Tim" and "Julia" (not their real names), they were initially unaware of their subconscious response.

This was the question:

You just received your driver’s license. You have been told that you should not give rides to your friends. Your friends ask you to drive them to the mall. What do you do?

Tim's subconscious replied: He should not drive them. He is not a safe driver.

Tim's conscious replied: Yeah, I would probably take them to the mall. I wouldn't want to let them down. But if I didn't drive them, I would brag to my parents that I didn't do so.

Julia's subconscious replied: Yes, she can take them to the mall. She is a safe driver.

Julia's conscious replied: No. She should not drive them. It's against the law.

How can we explain the contradictions between Tim and Julia's individual subconscious and conscious responses, as well as the differences between Tim and Julia's answers?

In each case, the conscious response of these teens appears to reflect consideration of how others might react to their decision, i.e., their friends, parents, or law enforcement. The subconscious response appears to focus on what might be in each person's best interest, irrespective of others' thoughts.

For this reason, I encourage my patients to listen to their subconscious when deciding how they will approach their driving.


Being able to drive is a privilege, which also carries a great deal of responsibility. In addition to being taught the mechanics of driving, teenagers should be made aware of the risks of driving and encouraged to think carefully, including through consulting with their subconscious, to assess how to drive safely.


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