Parent-teen intervention may reduce teen driving risk

November 08, 2002

Finding in Brief:
An NICHD program that teaches parents how to set limits on their teens' driving greatly reduces the teens' chances of risky driving behavior that could lead to accidents, according to a recent study by researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Risky driving behavior includes unsupervised driving at night, having other teens as passengers, and driving on high-speed roads.

Car accidents are the leading cause of death and injury among teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19. Research shows that when parents don't limit when, where, and how frequently their teens can drive, teens' traffic violations and car accidents increase. Research also shows that although parents are in a prime position to influence their teens' driving behaviors, many parents are less involved than they could be. Programs and instructional materials have been developed to help parents teach adolescents to drive, but few have been developed to teach parents how to manage teen driving risk. This study found that families participating in the Checkpoints Program reported imposing stricter driving limits on their teens, both when the teens got their licenses and three months later. The Checkpoints program includes a video, newsletters, and a parent-teen driving agreement that are mailed to the families.

Study Publication:
Injury Prevention, September 2002, Volume No. 8, Supplement II.

Reason for the Study:
To determine whether the Checkpoints Program can significantly affect the driving limits parents impose on their teenagers.

Director's Comment:
"By restricting driving to less risky driving conditions, parents can reduce the extremely high likelihood of a crash by their teenagers during their first year of driving," said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the NICHD. "This study shows that a simple intervention can help parents set limits on teen driving."

Earlier research on teen driving showed traffic violations were four times more likely and car crashes almost seven times more likely when parents had fewer restrictions on their teens' driving with friends as passengers. Other research found that many newly licensed teens do not report having driving restrictions, especially for high-risk driving conditions such as having other teens as passengers and driving at night.

Study Details:
Bruce G. Simons-Morton, Ed.D., MPH, and colleagues recruited 452 parent-teen pairs when teens received their driving permits. Pairs were interviewed by telephone and assigned to either the checkpoints group or the comparison group. They were interviewed by phone again when the teen was licensed, and once more three months later. The researchers will interview the pairs again at six and twelve months after the teen receives his or her license. The comparison group receives standard traffic safety information, whereas the intervention group receives Checkpoints Program materials. The Checkpoints Program was developed by Simons-Morton and Jessica Hartos, Ph.D., in collaboration with Preusser Research Group. The program consists of educational materials mailed to the home: a video, newsletters, and a parent-teen driving agreement. The nine-minute video for parents covers the risks of teen driving and shows how two families use the Checkpoints Program. The newsletters are written for both parents and teens, and each issue focuses on a specific driving risk. Newsletters are sent about twice a month for four months when teens receive a driver's permit. After teens get their license, the newsletters arrive about once a month for six months. The parent-teen driving agreement includes suggested driving guidelines for parents. It also has a section where parents and teens can list the driving rules and restrictions they have agreed to and the consequences for breaking the rules.

Findings in Depth:
The study found that most parents and teens watch and discuss the Checkpoints Program video and read and discuss the newsletters. Just under half the parents and teens reported completing the driving agreement. Those who did were satisfied with it and would recommend it to other families. Families in the Checkpoints Program reported stricter teen driving limits under high-risk conditions when the teen got his or her license and three months later than did families in the comparison group. The study also found that driving restrictions imposed when teens were licensed was the best predictor of driving restrictions three months later.

Study Strengths:
This is the first study to compare a group using a parent-teen driving agreement to another group that did not. It is also the first study to compare the effectiveness of educational materials that teach parents to manage teen driving. The results should provide valuable information about the extent to which parents can successfully be encouraged to set appropriate limits on teen driving.

Study Limitations:
Parents and teens may report stricter driving restrictions than are actually imposed in an effort to look more responsible than they are. Also, although the study measured parents' ability to set limits on their teens driving behaviors, it did not measure whether those teens had fewer negative outcomes, such as traffic citations and motor vehicle crashes. The researchers hope to assess the effect of The Checkpoints Program on traffic citations and accident rates.

Further Investigation:
In an upcoming statewide study of 4,000 families, the researchers next plan to see whether the Checkpoints Program can reduce the risk of teen accidents and other negative outcomes.
The NICHD is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the biomedical research arm of the federal government. NIH is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. NICHD publications, as well as information about the Institute, are available from the NICHD Web site,, or from the NICHD Clearinghouse, 1-800-370-2943; e-mail

NIH/Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

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