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Dr. Max Gomez: Behind-The-Wheel Stress Could Improve Driving Performance In Teens

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NEW YORK(CBSNewYork) — A teen’s first time behind the wheel can be a stressful experience for parents and their new driver.

Now, it turns out that the stress that teens experience when they first start driving may actually improve their performance, CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported.

Traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of death for people aged 15-29, and the most dangerous time is during a new driver’s first few months behind the wheel.

“Once a teen has a license and he’s out there on his own there’s a whole lot for the teen to take in and process and they end up getting distracted at times,” Justin McNauli, AAA, explained.

Distracted driving is a major factor in teen and adult car crashes but researchers have found another factor that affects safety behind the wheel in young people; levels of a stress hormone called cortisol.

“The study looked at adolescents’ level of cortisol in their blood following a stressful situation. Those adolescents that had higher cortisol levels had fewer crashes and near crashes,” Doctor of Psychology, Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, Kate Eshleman explained.

Surprisingly, kids who had higher levels of cortisol were less likely to crash, and saw a decrease in their crash and near-crash rates as they gained more experience regardless of gender.

As CBS 2’s Dr. Gomez explained, parents won’t know their child’s cortisol level so it’s important to get them to focus and avoid distractions while driving.

“We get a text message we’re excited, we get a phone call we check it. You know, our favorite song is on the radio, turn it up. So, I definitely think there are a lot more distractions now,” teen driver Joe Hornberger said.

Experts don’t recommend intentionally boosting cortisol levels in new drivers, but researchers said that a test for the hormone could identify kids who are at an increased risk and may need further defensive driving education.

The study was performed by Canadian researchers and published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

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