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Shift This


By Alice Short '77

Published Dec 14, 2018 8:00 AM

Teenage drivers may not be as bad as you think — but it depends on which ones you are talking about.

Greg Miller, a longtime instructor at Westwood Driving School, has many war stories. But he’s come to see that not all new drivers are created equal.

“There are a lot of 16-year-olds who could pass their driving tests immediately,” Miller says. The skilled novices, he noticed, frequently play sports.

One night, Miller shared his theories about the novices with his wife, Nancy Wayne, a reproductive neuroendocrinologist, a professor of physiology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and an associate vice chancellor for research. She knew the next step had to be a study.

Wayne and Miller spent a year looking at new drivers. Indeed, students who were or had been involved in organized sports “had higher driving skills than those who did not,” Wayne says.

The study also found that playing video games had no impact on driving skills, and that female students were, on average, less confident drivers than male students — even though their average scores were similar.

The findings — published in the journal PLOS One — also showed that teenagers (especially males) had better driving skills than drivers in their 20s.

“We defined a novice as having fewer than five hours of experience behind the wheel,” says Wayne, “and we made sure we had an even gender split, 50-50,” among the 100 novices, all from the Westwood Driving School.

Despite the study, new drivers shouldn’t get their hopes up about lower insurance rates. California’s DMV website states that it is “generally acknowledged that the greatest risk of traffic crashes is among teenage drivers.” Wayne and Miller suggest that this phenomenon has more to do with inattention to safety considerations than technical ability. Now they hope to expand their research to look at all of California.

“We are going to be speaking with the California DMV in Sacramento,” Wayne says. “We want to collaborate with them to ask broader questions. We want to look at factors like socioeconomic, urban versus rural, and even the location of the DMV offices.”