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Preventing Teen Motor Crashes: Contributions from the Behavioral and Social Sciences - Workshop Report
not only the development of particular sets of physical skills, but also the development of judgment about how and when to apply particular skills and knowledge. Essential to the process, again regardless of the context, is learning from errors. Errors made while learning to drive can be fatal, but Keating offered the example of the Ache people of eastern Paraguay, who have addressed the risks inherent in learning to hunt in a way strikingly similar to graduated driver licensing (GDL). In that tribe, at approximately age 13, youngsters begin to learn to hunt, but they are allowed to track only certain kinds of game. The process of learning encompasses several levels of increasing difficulty and risk, and it culminates in a status akin to full certification as hunter.
Keating observed that some studies indicate that it can take up to 10,000 hours of focused, goal-directed effort to develop real expertise in acquiring a complex, modern skill. He linked the processes that are necessary to develop expertise to the development of self-regulation in adolescents. Critical to the capacity to develop and successfully deploy the judgment and skills that come with growing expertise is the capacity to regulate one’s attention, emotions, and social behavior, which is still developing in teenagers. The relevance of each of these domains to driving is clear, but no purposeful strategy is available to address them in preparing young drivers. Moreover, Keating explained, it is the development of the prefrontal cortex in the brain during adolescence that regulates these capacities. During adolescence the prefrontal system emerges as the governor of other brain systems. Neural pathways, partly dictated by experience, are established in the brain that will influence development and behavior—thus providing the basis for a lifetime of safe driving habits.
In related work, some researchers have pointed out that adolescence is a period during which the basic neural pathways are established for accomplishing complex tasks through the formation of representational, psychological, and neural models that allow them to capture the “gist” of the task without requiring them to consciously decide each component of a complex endeavor each and every time. The frequent rehearsal of these tasks allows for greater speed in their execution and also allows the models to become embedded in the brain’s architecture and chemistry so that the execution of repetitive tasks (such as acceleration and braking) becomes automatic. It is during the formative period of the representational model and neural circuitry that prevention strategies, hazard assessment skills, and safe driving practices acquire special significance.
The significance of these points for teen driving is twofold, Keating