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Teen Driving and Frontal Lobe Development

FUNCTION OF EACH SECTION OF THE BRAIN


Frontal Lobe:
The frontal lobe monitors is the most important of the brain for motor skills, driver functions, and emotional maturity. An undeveloped or underdeveloped frontal lobe can lead to increased risk taking and inability to perform complex maneuvers.

Temporal Lobe:
The temporal lobe is the section most responsible for language recognition and memory skills. An undeveloped or damaged temporal lobe can make learning motor skills or road rules more difficult.

Parietal Lobe:
The parietal lobe is the important sensory location and also has two primary functions - the integration of senses to form perceptions and the representation of these perceptions to the world around us. Almost all visual and audible actions include the parietal lobe.

Occipital Lobe:
The occipital lobe is essential to our ability to drive safely and is the center of visual perception system. Hallucinations or blindness can be caused by an undeveloped or damaged occipital lobe.

Cerebellum:
After the frontal lobe, the cerebellum has the second greatest impact on motor skills necessary for driving. It also controls emotions related to pleasure and fear, that can lead to dangerous or reckless driving behavior.

Medulla:
Known for primary body functions we rarely think about: the cardiac and respiratory centers. It is the part of the brain that monitors breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. It is also the least susceptible to damage.


Brain size does not equal emotional or intellectual maturity - this should not be a surprise to anyone. A large number of the scientific community that deals with teen brain development has reported the precise significance this has for teen drivers.  Research has indicated that brain signals essential for motor skills and emotional maturity are the last to extend to the brain’s frontal lobe in teens even though the brain is 80 percent developed at adolescence. These parts are those that are responsible for many of the skills essential for driving.

Research released by the National Institute of Mental Health, offers that emotional immaturity, not inexperience, is the main reason that teen drivers are the cause of more car accidents than any other age group.  The spread of white matter is the most important aspect of brain development for drivers. This process that helps brain cells communicate efficiently. The first and second stages of brain development over produce brain cells. This happens before people become adults. Unfortunately, teens lacks an adequate mechanism to process them.

At What Age is The Teen Brain Fully Developed?

The teen brain typically does not fully developed until at least age 25. When people reach age 20, their white brain matter begins to spread from the back of the brain forward. This process is usually completed between 25 and 30 years of age. The part of the brain that carries the load for driving skills is the frontal lobe (shown above). A shortage of white matter in their frontal lobes shows why teens are much likely to disobey traffic signs, speed, and lose control of their vehicles.

Some safety experts suggest raising the minimum driving age to 18 because of the research done on teen brains. While others say this is an unnecessary and would place an disproportionate burden on parents. Based upon a prior recommendation from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, every state and Washington, D.C. now has a three-tiered graduated license system. This system begins with a learner’s permit, progresses to an intermediate license with certain limitations, and concludes with an unrestricted license.

The Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) requires teens to follow a graduated driver's license (GDL) process to help you become a safer driver. The Georgia GDL is called the Teenage & Adult Drivers Responsibility Act (TADRA) and applies to teen drivers who are 15 to 18 years old. TADRA includes age restrictions to advance to a the next type of license as well as required practice driving training hours. 

The Georgia  GDL program has three stages:

  • Instructional permit.
  • Provisional/Intermediate license (Class D).
  • Full driver's license (Class C).

More detailed information can be found at the Georgia Department of Driver Service's website here.

The purpose of TADRA is to decrease accidents by making sure you get the experience you need before becoming a fully licensed driver. It has proven effective in reducing teen car accident rates. Even back in 2006, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety estimated that the graduated license laws already in place had reduced accidents for 16 year-olds by 23 percent, preventing more than 8,000 accidents  involving teenagers.

Is The Frontal Lobe of the Brain Necessary For Driving?

In a nutshell, the frontal lobe is necessary for driving. Adults typically use the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is the rational part of the brain while driving.

However, have you ever went on a trip on "cruise control" or "auto pilot" with hardly any memory of the trip itself? For experienced adults this may be familiar as they typically have lots of experience driving and really may not need to use their our frontal lobe all that much.  But bear in mind that the frontal lobe is activated upon danger when the brain analyzes the best response to the situation. So this type of laissez faire driving is even more so dangerous for teens.