Kansas medical specialist explains why teens are at higher risk for car crashes

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - In the past week, at least three Kansas City area teens have died in car crashes. Dr. Lore Nelson, a specialist in adolescent medicine with the University of Kansas Medical Center, explains that a teenager's brain development can be a contributing factor.

Studies show that human brain development is not mature until people approach their early 20s. Experts say that's why many teenagers often believe they are invincible and are not able to consider potential consequences to their actions.

Nelson has treated many teenagers who have survived traumatic car crashes and accidents.

"The frontal cortex, the part of the brain in the forehead area, is where a person makes judgments and decisions," she explained. "In a teenager, that part of the brain is not fully developed until they are in their early or mid-20s."

Liza Clough, 17, knows the pain and sorrow a teenager's death can bring to a family. Her brother died following a bicycle accident in 2005.

Jake Clough was wearing his helmet, riding his bicycle, when he mistakenly failed to stop at a stop sign and was hit by a car. He died a month later from unrelated complications to the bicycle accident. He was 15.

"I miss him everyday and I think about him everyday," Liza said. "I think he would remind other teens to be safe like he was and wear their bicycle helmets."

Jake's family set up the Head Strong for Jake Foundation, which gives away free bicycle helmets to children.

Since 205 they have donated 9,000 helmets. To learn more about the foundation visit http://headstrongforJake.org.

Nelson said there is no way to rush the development of a teenager's brain. She said that since teenagers are often impulsive and take risks, she recommends parents to be aware of that and do what they can to help the teenager avoid situations that could be deadly or dangerous.

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