Adolescent Physiology and Effect on Driving

There are two pieces of the brain development in teenagers that we want to consider: speeding up nerve transmissions and eliminating unneeded nerve pathways. Until our early to mid-twenties (in some cases early thirties), the nervous system is under construction. One of the last developments in the nervous system is the insulation of the nerves to make information travel faster through them. This process is called myelination. During teen years, the nerves connecting the areas of the brain that control impulsiveness, process good judgment, and regulate emotion are finally insulated for faster transmissions. Those nerves that do not yet have the insulation coating have a definite influence on the driving skills of the adolescent or teen. As a result, their abilities to maintain full attention, recognize potential dangers, evaluate risky situations, and make good decisions are challenged. 

For over 10 years, researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland have been mapping the development of the brain in children and teens. They found that the judgment and control center of the brain has a rapid growth spurt around age 10. Starting at age 12, the extra nerve connections begin dying off. The big wigs call this process pruning. The nerves that are used remain in use. The nerves that are not used are lost. This apparently allows the brain to become more efficient at the skills and routines that the body will actually use, without wasting space for what is unused. 

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blue brain drawing
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