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Every day in the United States, seven 16- to 19-year-olds succumb to injuries suffered in car crashes, the leading cause of teenage death in America. Based on new research, Israeli researchers are proposing a two-pronged strategy of vigilant parental intervention and monitoring technology to improve the safety of young drivers on the road.

“We have shown that it is possible to reduce dangerous driving in young drivers by increasing parental involvement in a positive way,” said Prof. Haim Omer of Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences, who led the study conducted by Dr. Yaara Shimshoni in collaboration with Or Yarok: The Association for Safer Driving in Israel.

“Our program is based on a model of parental involvement called ‘vigilant care,’ shown to be effective in reducing risky behavior exhibited in other fields. According to this model, parents remain non-invasively involved in their youngsters’ activities, but are poised to increase their level of involvement at the first signs of danger.”

For the study, 217 families of adolescent drivers installed in-vehicle data recorders (IVDRs) that monitor driving in real time and offer feedback on risk patterns. Some of the parents had received training in the vigilant care method.

The trained parents were instructed to have their young driver send them a text message upon arriving at his or her destination and once again before midnight. The idea is to keep parents in mind as a protective mechanism.

The parents were also taught to initiate weekly “driving chats” with their child, sitting together to plan trips to new destinations. One of the teens said this of the program’s effect on him: “I felt as though someone were sitting by my side, even though I was alone in the car.”

Meeting the teen driving challenge

Each family participating in the study was assigned to one of four groups, according to type of IVDR feedback and level of parental intervention: no feedback; individual feedback; family feedback; and family feedback plus parental intervention using vigilant care techniques.

After following the teen drivers and the four groups for three months at a time, the researchers found that the drivers whose parents had received vigilant care training and who had also received family-wide IVDR feedback significantly improved their behavior behind the wheel.

The combined technological monitoring plus intervention was found to be most effective for young drivers who exhibited the riskiest behavior.

Results of the research study  were published recently in the Journal of Adolescence.

“We have shown that the combination of technology and ‘vigilant care’ can meet the challenge of dangerous teen driving,” said Shimshoni. “This is the first study in which a systematic, theory-based intervention for parental involvement in teen driving was found to be effective.”

Omer explained that the vigilant care model previously has been shown to reduce risky behavior in many areas of child development. “The difficult challenge here was to amend and apply the model to an older and normative population of young adults,” he said.

In tandem with Or Yarok, Omer is working toward adapting and extending the vigilant care intervention for novice drivers to address the needs of different populations.