According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), teenagers account for only 7% of the driving population but are involved in 14% of fatal car crashes. Motor vehicle accidents are the #1 cause of death and injury for people ages 15-19. There are two important reasons why teens are at a higher risk for being in a car crash: lack of driving experience and their tendency to take risks while driving. Teens tend to drive faster and are unable to control the car as well as more experienced drivers. Teens also do most of their driving at night, which can be even more difficult. In addition, teen drivers are more likely to be influenced by their peers when making decisions about driving. This can lead to things such as speeding, driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and not wearing a seat belt.
For most teenagers getting their driver's license is one of the highlights of their teenage years. For parents, it's one of the scariest and parents often have many concerns for their teen's safety. Parents can help with this process by ensuring that their teenager learns proper driving skills and driving choices. Parents can work with their teenager to help them gain the experience and judgment they need to become a safe and responsible driver. But how exactly does that happen and what do parents need to know to make sure their teenager is safe on the road?
Once teenagers obtain their learner's permit, which is usually at age 16, they are able to start driving with adult supervision. Most schools offer a driver's education class which is usually the way most teenagers get supervised driving experience. However, teenage drivers need to get as much driving experience as possible before they actually get their license. Having more driving experience will help a teenager become a safer driver and will help with the transition to independent driving. Standard driver's education classes include 30 hours of class-room teaching and 6 hours of behind-the-wheel training. This is not enough time to fully train a new driver. Don't rely on driver education classes alone to teach your teen to be a safe driver - take an active role and plan practice sessions that work up to challenges such as highway and high speed driving. However, not all parents are able to teach their children to drive. Parents who find themselves yelling or upsetting their teen should ask their spouse, another relative or friend to help out.
As part of this training process, some states offer "graduated license programs." These programs allow for a gradual increase in driving privileges granted to teen drivers giving them time to become safe and responsible drivers. They include things like a period of supervised driving only, followed by daytime driving and gradually working up to privileges like night time driving and driving with passengers. States which have enacted these programs have substantially reduced the number of crashes among teen drivers. Florida does not have any sort of formalized graduated licensing program and efforts are underway to get other states to adopt such programs. However, you can set similar rules for your teen to imitate this stepwise introduction to driving. You can introduce these "rules" and emphasize the importance of safe and responsible driving to your teen even before they get their license. It's important to remind your teen that these rules are in place because you care about his or her safety and to stand firm even if your teen complains and makes comparisons to other friends who are driving with more privileges.
Another way parents can help is to be very careful about the car their teenager will drive. Choose vehicles for safety and be sure the car the teen drives is properly maintained. Before your teen starts driving, be sure to discuss things like who will pay for the insurance policy on the car and how much your teen will be expected to contribute for gas and car maintenance. Also be sure to set a good example yourself. Avoid driving while talking on a cell phone. Always wear your seatbelt and make sure you require all your passengers to do the same.
Stress to your teenager the importance of never driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Drink for drink teenagers are more likely to have higher blood alcohol levels than adults due to their lower body mass and physical immaturity. They are also less familiar with the effects of alcohol on their body. For these reasons teenagers are more at risk for accidents when driving under the influence of alcohol. Most importantly, be sure your teen knows he or she can call you for a ride whenever this is an issue and they will not be tempted to get behind the wheel of the car because they are "afraid" to call home for a ride. Most schools have Mothers or Students Against Drunk Driving Organizations which will provide contracts which you and your teen can sign to emphasize the importance of this agreement.
Driving is a privilege and a big responsibility. It is important to make sure your teenager realizes this and knows that you realize it as well. Working closely with your teen as he or she prepares to get behind the wheel as an independent driver will help your teen become a responsible and safe driver.
For More Information:
National Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control
~ Mary Romano, MD