Keeping Your Teen Driver Safe

There are some new drivers going back to school. Teens who have recently gotten their driver’s licenses may be taking the wheel to drive to school this fall.

A new driver represents a fresh freedom for some parents who have been doing all the driving for years. That freedom, however, is usually overshadowed by the fear that any parent feels when their teen starts driving. And it turns out that such parental fears are justified—so it’s worth reviewing how to keep your teen safe while he or she is behind the wheel.

Facts on teen driving from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in U.S. teens.
  • Drivers 16- to 19-years-old are at the greatest risk for crashes. In fact, their risk is 4 times greater than for older drivers.
  • The teens at the greatest risk are those who are male, those carrying other teenage passengers in the car, and those still in their first year of driving.
  • Nearly 50 percent of teen deaths related to automobile crashes happen on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays between the hours of 3 p.m. and midnight.

Why are teens at higher risk for motor vehicle crashes?

  • Development. Teens haven’t completely matured mentally and have greater risk-taking behaviors, possibly because they tend to underestimate the risk associated with a particular behavior. Teens also have a greater tendency to speed and to drive too close to the cars in front of them.
  • No seatbelts. Teens have the lowest rate of seatbelt use among all driving groups.
  • Alcohol. At least 25 percent of motor vehicle deaths in teens are related to alcohol use. To make matters worse, studies show that teens experience greater impairment at all blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) compared to older individuals at the same BAC.
  • Technological distractions. Cell phones, texting, MP3 players, and the like can all distract drivers greatly—and who more than teenagers?

The role of parents

  • Be aware of your teen’s driving practices and discuss safe driving habits when opportunities present themselves.
  • Graduated drivers licensing (GDL). This method for promoting safe teen driving, which is the law in some states, uses step-by-step stages to introduce beginners gradually to the challenges of operating a car. Thus, for an initial period of time, new drivers must always have a licensed driver with them in the car. They are also limited as to the number of passengers they are allowed to have in the car with them. Nighttime driving is restricted until they have graduated to a full driver’s license. Even if GDL is not the law in your state, you as a parent can make it the rule in your house.
  • Check out the apps and devices now available for restricting your teen’s use of technology while driving. Some apps alert you to when your teen is texting while the vehicle is moving. Another device blocks incoming and outgoing texts when the car is running—incoming messages get an automatic reply (e.g., “I’m driving right now”), and phone calls go directly to voicemail. You can also get notifications if your teen tries to shut off the program. There are also GPS programs that let you know your new driver’s whereabouts at all times.

There are very few things that we, as parents, let our children do that carry the risk of severe injury or death to themselves or others. Driving is one of the few activities in this category and it’s an accepted part of growing up. But that doesn’t mean you can’t set strict rules when it comes to operating a motor vehicle—you can’t be too cautious when teaching your teen how to be safe on the road.

For more information on teen driving, check out the CDC’s webpage on the subject.

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