Summertime is a common time that teens learn to drive, but also the most dangerous time. Teens have more free time during the summer, so have more opportunity to drive than during the school year. Car crashes are the #1 cause of death in teens. We are now entering the “100 Deadliest Days,” the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day. This is when the average number of deadly teen driver crashes climbs 15% compared to the rest of the year. Make sure your teen is a safe driver before you let him or her hit the road alone.
Teens tend to be impulsive risk takers. Even cautious new drivers are inexperienced, so they are at risk of not knowing how to handle a situation. In addition to riding along with your teen as they learn the rules of the road, you should talk to them about expectations and safety. Continue the talks as they gain confidence because the risk of accident actually increases in the late teen years.
May is Global Youth Traffic Safety Month to educate about safe driving.
After talking to your teen, get your thoughts down in writing. There are many driving contracts available online.
This contract from the CDC has areas to write in your specific details.
The idrivesafely contract allows you to enter details for each point covered.
The AAA Driving Agreement has a nice chart depicting privileges that vary based on circumstance.
Overconfidence of the teen driver
Research has shown that after the first few driving years, teens risk of having an accident actually increases. This may be due to teens gaining confidence and taking more risks.
According to the 2017 study, 75 percent of high school seniors “feel confident” in their driving abilities, and 71 percent use a phone behind the wheel. Driving while drowsy, speeding, having multiple passengers and browsing music become more prevalent as new drivers gain confidence.
Distractions are a common cause of accidents. Younger drivers have the highest proportion of distraction related fatal crashes.
Over 70% of teens admit to using their cell phone while driving despite recognizing the dangers of this distraction.
Parents need to model safe behavior and stay off their phone while driving. Texts can wait. If it’s that important, pull over to check your phone. Have your teens agree to no cell phone use in a driving contract.
One of my favorite ads shows just how quickly accidents can happen.
Other passengers are another source of distraction. Teens easily distract one another. Limit the number of passengers your teen is allowed to chauffeur.
Even changing the radio station can be a significant distraction. Ask teens to set the station and leave it – or to make a soundtrack and play it for the road.
Speeding is a contributing factor to many crashes. Speed limits are set for safety and going faster makes it harder to maintain control of the vehicle.
Talk to teens about the importance of not only following speed limits, but also about adjusting speeds to road and weather conditions.
It is better to arrive alive but late rather than to speed to attempt to get there faster. Talk to your teen about calling if they plan to be late rather than just trying to speed home to make curfew.
The symptoms of ADHD, such as an inability to pay attention and impulsivity, can make driving even more dangerous than it is for a typical teen. There are more car accidents among teens with ADHD than the general population, but newer studies show ADHD drivers on medication are at a significantly lower risk than those not taking medicine. Talk to your teen about medication management if he or she has ADHD.
Safety tips for safe driving
- Buckle up – it’s the law but even more important, it’s the safest way to travel. Make sure any passengers are properly buckled before you drive.
- Avoid carpooling to reduce the distraction of others in the car. The more kids in the car, the higher the risk.
- Avoid eating while driving.
- Ignore your cell phone. (Parents be forgiving if your kids don’t answer your call or text right away.)
- Know where you are going and how to get there before you get on the road. If you aren’t sure you’ll remember, set a GPS before hitting the road and turn the sound on to minimize the need to look at the screen.
- Don’t drive when you’re tired. Drowsy driving is equated to drunk driving. If you have trouble staying in your lane or keeping your eyes open, you’re too tired to safely drive.
- Adjust seats, mirrors and climate controls before driving.
- Set your music for the road before you start driving.
- Watch for pedestrians and bicyclists. Five percent of teen deaths in crashes are pedestrians and 10% are bicyclists.
- Don’t drive under the influence of alcohol or any drug that affects your ability to focus behind the wheel. Car crashes are the leading cause of teen death and about 25% involve an underage drinking driver.
Follow the law and parental expectations
It goes without saying that teens must follow the law when driving. They must respect the rules of the road for their own safety and the safety of others.
In addition to the laws, household rules about passengers, nighttime driving and cell phone use can be individualized to your teen’s abilities and weaknesses. Even if a teen can legally drive alone, if he or she hasn’t demonstrated the ability to do it safely, parents should not allow it. More supervised hours can make a difference in their experience and if they in general do not show the ability to make safe choices, they should not have the ability to drive a vehicle unsupervised.