This article appears in June Family magazine.
If you want your teen to be a better driver, skip the video games and get them involved in organized sports, according to a new study.
That was one of a few surprises in a University of California Los Angeles study that also found that new, male teen drivers handle the car better than do new male drivers in their 20s.
In the study novice drivers — each with less than five hours of driving experience before their first driving lesson — participated in a two-hour lesson focused on car control and traffic maneuvers. Students drove in Los Angeles, ranked by the 2017 INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard as having the worst traffic in the world. The group was evenly split by gender, and the students’ average age was 18. Instructors considered students’ driving skills against four factors: age, gender, sports participation and video game experience.
The results were surprising, said Nancy Wayne, associate vice chancellor for research and a professor of physiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California Los Angeles.
Among the findings was that new female students on average reported feeling less confident than did their male counterparts, but the male and female groups received almost the same driving scores from instructors.
Also, a history of playing any kind of organized sport was linked to better driving skills among both men and women.
“We were surprised at how robust the impact of organized athletics — any type of athletic activity — was on driving skills. It didn’t matter if it was sports involving a ball or yoga. It didn’t matter if the driving students were currently involved in athletics or had been in the past. Compared to driving students who were not ever involved in an organized athletic activity, their driving skills were significantly greater,” Wayne said.
Previous studies focused on elite athletes such as members of a Division I sports team.
“Our study showed that you don’t have to be one of the elite to get benefits of athletics — any kind of organized athletic activity is associated with better driving skills in novice drivers,” Wayne said.
If you want your son or daughter to be a better driver, “encourage your children and teens to get involved in any athletic activity they enjoy. There are many benefits to athletics, including that it is associated with better driving skills in novice drivers. Second, don’t put off those driving lessons until your children are in their late teens or older. Waiting too long just makes it harder for novice drivers to reach a solid level of competence,” said Greg Miller, an instructor at Westwood Driving School, near the UCLA campus.
Playing video games showed no relationship to driving abilities. The authors expected the opposite, because earlier research had shown that playing action video games improves spatial cognition.
“Our study found that video gaming had no impact — either positive or negative — on driving skills. Apparently, exercising your thumbs and being a ‘passive’ player with little risk involved doesn’t have the impact on driving skills that any kind of athletics does,” Miller said.
To obtain a driver’s license in the United States, every person younger than 18 must pay for a formal driver’s education class with a minimum of six hours of driving instruction on the road. In California, teens must also wait six months after earning a learner’s permit before taking the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles driving test.
The authors propose that the DMVs in California and other states consider ending mandatory driver’s education for only teens and expanding safety training to new drivers of all ages.