NICHD Program Helps Parents Set Limits To Reduce Teens' Driving
Under Risky Conditions
Effect Lasts Through Critical One-Year Period
A new program reduces the likelihood that teens will drive under
conditions that place them at the greatest risk for a car crash,
according to a study from the National Institute of Child Health
and Human Development, one of the National Institutes of Health.
The Checkpoints Program, developed by NICHD scientists, teaches
parents to limit their teenagers’ exposure to certain driving
conditions for the first 12 months after teens receive their licenses the
time when they are statistically most likely to get into a car
The Checkpoints Program’s central feature is a written agreement
that parents and teens sign. The agreement limits teens’ driving
under conditions that place them at increased risk for a crash:
driving at night, driving with other teens in the car, driving
during bad weather, and driving on high speed roads. A supporting
video and periodic newsletters explain the risks that new drivers
face and reinforce the need for parents to limit their newly licensed
teens’ driving under these risky conditions.
The program is still undergoing testing and is not yet available
to the general public. The study appears in the March 2005 issue
of the American Journal of Public Health.
“This study shows that parents who set reasonable limits
on driving can reduce their newly licensed teens’ exposure
to risky driving conditions,” said NICHD Director Duane Alexander,
The current study builds upon an earlier study showing that families
who participated in the Checkpoints Program imposed stricter driving
limits on their teens, both when the teens initially got their
licenses and three months later.
“The key is for parents to limit driving privileges during
the months after teens get their licenses,” said Bruce G.
Simons-Morton, Ed.D., M.P.H, Chief of NICHD’s Prevention
Research Branch. “After teenagers become accustomed, for
example, to driving with friends in their car, or to driving at
night, it’s a lot more difficult to restrict such privileges.”
The Checkpoints Program, he added, teaches parents about the need
to establish initial restrictions on teen driving, but also helps
keep the restrictions in place for up to 12 months. Reducing the
amount of time newly licensed adolescents drive in risky situations
allows them to gain needed experience but while driving under safer
Earlier studies have shown that motor vehicle crash rates for
teenagers are higher than for older drivers, particularly during
the first 12 months after teens get their licenses. Crash rates
are highest during the first 1000 miles and 6 months of driving,
regardless of the amount of supervised practice driving before
a license is received and regardless of age. Currently, 35 states
and the District of Columbia have graduated driver-licensing (GDL)
policies, which grant driving privileges in discrete increments
and temporarily restrict high-risk driving conditions. GDL has
been shown to reduce crashes among teen drivers, but GDL policies
vary from state to state. One effect of GDL is to empower parents
to restrict the driving of their newly licensed teens.
The Checkpoints Program was designed to help parents set limits
on the conditions their teens drive under. To conduct the study,
Dr. Simons-Morton and his colleagues recruited pairs of parents
and teens at 8 offices of the Connecticut Division of Motor Vehicles.
In all, 420 parent-teen pairs participated in the study and were
asked to complete questionnaires on their knowledge of teen driving
habits. The parent-teen pairs were then assigned at random to receive
either the Checkpoints materials (210) or to receive a set of materials
about driver safety issues such as airbags and seatbelts (210).
Over the following year, families receiving the Checkpoints Program
materials were mailed a video that covers the risks of teen driving,
a series of eight newsletters during the learner’s permit
period and 10 additional newsletters during the first six months
after getting their licenses, as well as a parent-teen driving
The agreement encourages parents to strictly limit adolescent
driving under high-risk conditions and gradually increase driving
privileges as teenagers gain experience and show responsible driving
behavior. The agreement also helps parents establish clear driving
rules, establish consequences for rule violations, and identify
markers of experience and success.
The comparison families received an agreement on driving safety
and were mailed general information about driver safety. Both groups
received the same number of newsletters of similar design and quality
at approximately the same time.
The researchers interviewed the parent-teen pairs by telephone
to assess their views on teens driving. The first interview took
place when the teens received their learner’s permits, and
assessed their likelihood of driving under risky conditions with
a set of 12 items. Three months after the teens received their
licenses, parents and teens were again interviewed about 4 items
on teens’ driving. At 6 months, the teens were interviewed
again on the same 4 items, and, at 12 months, both parents and
teens were interviewed about these items a final time. As expected,
the group receiving the Checkpoints materials reported greater
limits on teen driving conditions than did the comparison group.
The researchers already knew from their earlier study that families
using the Checkpoints materials reported increased driving restrictions,
both at the time teens received their licenses and three months
The current study, however, found that these limits carried through
6 and 12 months after the teens received their licenses.
Of the Checkpoints group, 44 percent of parents and 48 percent
of teens reported adopting the agreement. Of the group who adopted
the agreement, 84 percent of parents and 72 percent of teens said
they were still using the agreement after 3 months. By 12 months,
73 percent of parents and 54 percent of adolescents said they were
still using the agreement. In contrast, the comparison group parents
were less likely to set such limits. Similarly, the limits that
were put in place for the comparison group teens did not last as
long as the limits established for the Checkpoints teens.
Mothers maintained greater and longer-lasting limits than did
fathers, and limits were greater and longer lasting for teenagers
who were younger when they received their licenses
Dr. Simons-Morton explained that while the study showed the Checkpoints
Program reduced teens’ exposure to risky driving conditions,
it was not large enough to determine whether the program could
reduce the number of crashes. He added that he and his colleagues
are currently conducting a larger, statewide study of 4000 Connecticut
teens to determine if Checkpoints can reduce the crash total.
Since it’s still in the testing phase, the Checkpoints Program
is not available to the public. Dr. Simons-Morton added, however,
that parents could limit newly licensed teens from driving under
the conditions that place them at greatest risk:
The NICHD is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the
biomedical research arm of the federal government. NIH is an
agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The
NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth;
maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and
population issues; and medical rehabilitation.
- Driving with other teens in the car
- Driving at night
- Driving in bad weather
- Driving on high speed roads