Hormone level affects teen's driving

Canadian researchers studied Cortisol levels in newly licensed drivers

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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Cortisol is a hormone our body produces in stressful situations. It can provide a quick burst of energy for survival reasons. In fact, it's secreted in higher levels during the body's "fight or flight" response to stress.  Now, a new Canadian study finds teenage drivers who have higher cortisol levels have lower crash and near-crash rates.

"So, the study looked at adolescents' level of cortisol in their blood following a stressful situation and those adolescents that had higher cortisol levels had fewer crashes and near crashes," said Cleveland Clinic Children's Child Psychologist Dr. Kate Eshleman, who did not take part in the study.

Traffic crashes are one of the leading causes of death for people aged 15-29. The first months after a new driver gets a license are a particularly dangerous time, so researchers at the University of Sherbrooke, in Quebec, measured cortisol levels of 40 newly licensed drivers and followed them for 18-months. Results show those with higher cortisol levels at the beginning of the study had lower crash and near-crash rates.

Also, as the teens with higher cortisol levels gained more experience behind the wheel their crash and near-crash rate decreased more quickly, regardless of the sex of the driver.

Researchers say the results could lead to a test that might point out teens that may be at an increased risk for crashes during their first months behind the wheel.
they say it could also lead to the development of a drug that could increase cortisol levels for teens, but more studies are needed.

Eshleman says parents should pay attention to how their teenagers handle stress.

"So, what we want to look at is how your adolescents respond in stressful situations. If you see your child becoming overly reactive to stress- yelling, screaming, throwing things we're going to make sure your child has better control of behavior before you put them behind the wheel of a car," said Eshleman.

Read more about this study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

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