Secret of why young drivers take risks
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
(Filed: 02/02/2005)

Young people are risk-takers because their brains do not fully develop until much later than had been thought, a new study has found.

Researchers said the region that inhibits impulsive behaviour is not completely formed until the age of 25.

This could explain the behaviour of many young motorists. Road accidents are the single greatest cause of accidental death in 16- to 24-year-olds, even though they are at their fittest, with quick reflexes and senses intact.

Dr Jay Giedd, a paediatric psychiatrist who led the study, said it was possible to determine the relationship between development of the dorsal-lateral prefrontal cortex, behind the brow, and driving ability.

"We'd thought the highest levels of physical and brain maturity were reached by the age of 18, maybe earlier, so this threw us," he told the Washington Post. "That makes adolescence a dangerous time, when it should be the best."

There might even be an evolutionary reason why this brain region developed slowly, he said, adding that this might prepare young people to leave their families and fend for themselves, without wasting energy worrying about it.

The continuing study is scanning the brains of 2,000 people aged between four and 26 at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

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