Tips for Developing a Safe Teen Driver
One of the most anticipated rites of passage for teens is getting a driver’s license. It is a very exciting step in their growth as an independent person. Unfortunately, teens behind the wheel are a constant worry for parents, and for good reason. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), teens and young adults have the most accidents of any age group, and automobile fatalities are the leading cause of death in people ages 16 to 21. Contrary to stereotypes about women and minorities being “bad drivers”, statistics show that the most dangerous drivers are males between 16 and 25.
Why do teens tend to be unsafe drivers? There are a number of factors, including driving inexperience, reckless driving and speeding, impulsivity, alcohol and drug use, cell phone use, peer pressure, and thrill seeking behavior. The good news is that teens can absolutely learn safe driving habits and avoid these statistics. Parents need to take the time to explain how dangerous driving can be and then offer their teens some advice. Sometimes, parents assume that certain rules are no-brainers – something that doesn’t need to be said out loud for everyone to know –you should use your seat belt, you shouldn’t drink and drive, etc. But, the statistics don’t lie – enough teens are doing these things to warrant a clear message from mom and dad.
Speeding is the number one cause of accidents in people under 21. Teens are more likely than any other age group to feel the need for speed. Teens are not good at anticipating consequences and thinking through actions yet. Their brains are only 80% developed, and when they get caught up in some excitement, they live in the moment instead of registering potential dangers. Drag racing, or simply speeding, are cheap thrills that many teens do not consider dangerous. Clearly state to your teen that they can significantly reduce their chances of being in an accident by obeying posted speed limits.
Using a seat belt is a simple way to avoid serious injury in a car accident. Everyone in the car should buckle their seatbelts every time they get in the car. Insist it be a rule if they are going to drive, and model the behavior as well.
Don’t Take Too Many Passengers
The risk of a car crash involving a teenage driver increases with each additional teen passenger in the vehicle. Studies by both the NHTSA and the Federal Highway Administration have shown that teens become more reckless behind the wheel when they are in a larger group. The driver can easily become more distracted with
more people in the car. In addition, peer pressure almost always plays a role in speeding, allowing unlicensed peers to drive, driving under the influence, not using seat belts, or street racing. Moral of the story: tell your teen to keep the number of people in his/her car to a minimum.
Never Drive Impaired
Alcohol or drug use is the number two cause of accidents in people under 21. No one should ever drive while under the influence of alcohol, prescription or street drugs, or over the counter medications. Teens are not the only offenders when it comes to driving impaired but their lack of driving experience make the risks that much greater. Parents need to be very clear that driving impaired is never acceptable and that even taking cold or pain medicine can impair their driving.
Limit Driving in Bad Conditions
Young drivers do only 20 percent of their driving at night, but over half the crash fatalities of adolescent drivers occur during nighttime hours. Driving in extreme weather or in the dark can be daunting for experienced drivers. Teens need more practice driving in good conditions before they try to drive in bad conditions.
Never Drive Distracted
In our multi-tasking world, it seems that driving is not enough. We need to be driving while we talk on the phone, fiddle with the radio, operate our GPS, fix our hair, eat a snack, and text our friend. Studies have shown that these types of distractions can cause a driver to operate their vehicle in a manner similar to being intoxicated. Having our minds distracted, or doing something that takes our hands off the wheel, substantially increases the likelihood of having an accident.
The fact is, teens are immature and just don’t think an accident will happen to them. And strangely, teens have such an “invincible” attitude that they believe they will still be fine even if they have an accident. Parents need to combat this teen mindset by showing them the statistics and modeling good driving behavior. Parents should always buckle their seat belt, avoid speeding, ignore the cell phone, pull over to fool with their GPS, and eat before driving. You might think your teen doesn’t notice, but they do.
Additionally, studies show that people who get formal driving training are less likely to get in accidents or experience road rage. Consider enrolling your child.
Finally, be sure to explain to your teen that driving is a privilege, not a right. If you discover that your child is not following driving laws or your rules, confiscate the keys. They may have a fit, but at least they’ll be safe while they’re doing it.