Adolescent Physiology and Effect on Driving

In recent years, research with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has shown that the brain of the adolescent and the teenager is still not fully developed in emotional, mental, and physical response skills when compared with the adult brain. The part of the brain that generates raw emotion is in an accelerated developmental phase while the part of the brain that controls good judgment is, for the most part, inactive. This judgment control center, the prefrontal cortex, is where your brain processes information from your eyes, skin, and internal organs. It is also where you evaluate information, control muscle movement, and make decisions. Obviously, these functions are very important to drivers, but the brain does not fully develop them until the early twenties. Immaturity in this portion of the brain means that the teen will have trouble with multiple thought tracking, organization, use of critical memory, judicious decision making, appropriate speed of motor responses. Combine that delay with the hyperactivity of raw emotion and thrill seeking and you have a situation that virtually begs for unsafe driving practices. 

The brain is about 80% developed in adolescents.

The largest part of the brain, the cortex, is divided into lobes that mature from back to front.  The last section to connect is the frontal lobe, responsible for cognitive processes such as reasoning, planning and judgment. Recent research suggests this mental merger is not completed until age 25.

The teenage brain, however, should not be viewed as an adult brain with fewer miles on it. Teens have very sharp brains, but they’re not quite sure what to do with them.

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