As a teenager’s 16th birthday draws close, parents must brace themselves to allow their teenager to drive a car. Driving gives teenagers immense independence. It also puts them at great risk – car crashes are a leading cause of teenage deaths in the United States. The CDC reports six teens between the ages of 16 and 19 die every day in fatal motor vehicle accidents. More than 200,000 are treated each year for injuries sustained during motor vehicle collisions. Teen driver safety is a very real concern.
Interestingly, male teenage drivers are two times more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than females. Moreover, the crash risk increases when other teenagers are present in a car driven by an unsupervised teenager. The likelihood of risky driving behavior is highest when there are several male teen passengers in the car. Accidents are more likely on the weekends and in the early hours of the morning. Newly licensed teens are at highest crash risk due to lack of driving experience and risky driving behavior.
So, what can parents do to keep their new teen drivers safe? Here are 5 tips that could save your teenager’s life.
One in four fatal crashes involving male drivers under 20 years old involves a driver who was drinking. Talk to your teenager about the dangers of drinking and driving. You cannot stress this enough. Enforce a zero tolerance policy. Have regular conversations about the effects of alcohol on the human body – poor muscle coordination, delayed reaction time, and impaired judgment, self-control, and reasoning.
2. Seat Belts
More than half the teens between 16 and 19 years old who die in motor vehicle crashes are not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident. Parents should set an example with model driving behavior. If your teenager sees you make a quick run to the grocery store unbelted, they are more likely to mimic this habit. As an adult, it is your responsibility to demonstrate what safe driving looks like.
Technology has made driving easier – many of us cannot imagine life without GPS navigation – but it has also made distracted driving a bigger problem than ever before. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to distractions – eating, putting on makeup, fiddling with the car’s entertainment console, reading a text message on a smartphone all divert a teen driver’s attention. Teach your teenager to stay focused on the road and other vehicles around them. Remind them to pull over if something demands their attention. Tell them to make it a habit to pre-program the navigation system before leaving home.
Smartphones are a big culprit in distracted driving, but mobile technology can also help promote safe driving. There are apps that prevent distracted driving by blocking calls and text messages while on the move. Others let parents know where their teenager is or automatically shut off certain features depending on the speed of the car. Figure out what works for your family and let technology help keep your teenager safe.
If your state hasn’t adopted a graduated driver licensing law, you can enforce one for your teenager during the critical first year behind the wheel. Begin by allowing only supervised driving, then graduate to unsupervised driving except at nighttime and with limits on passengers, and then finally permit full driving privileges. This will protect your teen from high-risk situations while he or she gains experience on the road. Finally, the CDC’s parent-teen driving agreement is a great way to reiterate safe driving habits.