Tag Archives: teen drivers

Teen Driving: How to Keep Your Teen Safe Behind the Wheel

Parenting teenagers has never been more challenging. In addition to raising your teen to become a good person and a responsible adult, parents today need to help their teens navigate a variety of risks including drinking and drugs, social media, and the complexities inherent in friendships and romantic relationships. With all of these factors to worry about, it can be easy to forget that the biggest risk facing your teen is parked right outside of your house. Incredibly, traffic crashes are the number one cause of death for teenagers in America. Teen Driving GraphicAccording to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motor vehicle accidents are the cause of 35% of teen deaths every year, and mile for mile, teens are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers.

There are a number of factors that contribute to teen driving fatalities:

  • Inexperience and immaturity
  • Excessive speed
  • Drinking and driving
  • Not wearing seat belts
  • Distracted driving (cell phone use, loud music, other teen passengers, etc.)
  • Drowsy driving
  • Nighttime driving
  • Drug use

Parent Involvement Is Critical

The good news is that many teen driving accidents are preventable, and parents have a key role to play in keeping their teens safe behind the wheel. A recent National Young Driver Survey found that teens with authoritative parents (defined as those who are highly supportive and involved, set rules, and monitor) engaged in fewer risky driving behaviors and had half the crash risk as compared to other teens. In addition teens with involved parents are:

  • Twice as likely to wear seat belts
  • 70% less likely to drink and drive
  • Half as likely to speed
  • 30% less likely to use a cell phone while driving

The takeaway? Make sure you are talking with your teen and setting expectations for their driving.

How You Can Help

There are a number of specific things parents can do to reduce the chances that their teens will be involved in auto accidents:

  1. Set Clear Rules: Make sure to let your teen know what your expectations are and explain the rationale behind them.
  2. Focus on Safety: Let them know that you are setting these rules to keep them safe and not simply to control them.
  3. Reward Good Behavior: If your teen follows your rules and maintains a good driving record, introduce new privileges (such as driving after dark).
  4. Be Supportive: Peer pressure is tough, and your teen may find themself getting pressured to engage in behavior that violates your rules. As a parent, you can make things easier by letting your teen’s friends know what the rules are and then acting as a scapegoat (“I can’t do that, my parents would ground me!”), or by establishing a code word with your teen (if they call and mention the word, come and pick them up right away and with no questions asked).
  5. Communicate: Communication is critical. Talk to your teen and make sure you know where they are going and why, how they plan to get there, and how they will get home. If you (or they) don’t feel confident that they have a plan in place to get safely there and back, offer a ride.
  6. Lead by Example: Even though teens might not admit it, parents really are important role models. Make sure that you practice safe driving. Don’t talk on your cell phone or text while driving, obey the speed limit, don’t drive if you’ve been drinking, and don’t drive aggressively.

One of the best ways to clearly establish and communicate expectations is through the use of a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement. Use this template provided by the Centers for Disease Control or create your own. Either way, make sure your expectations are set out in writing, and then both you and your teen should sign the agreement. Having a clear set of expectations and communicating often about them are the best ways to keep your teen safe on the road.

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Top 10 Mistakes Teen Drivers Make

Cars.com, in conjunction with DriversEd.com, America’s leading drivers education resource and solution, have identified the 10 most common mistakes teen drivers make. “There are a number of factors that lead to an increase in accidents for teen drivers, including inexperience, dealing with emergency situations, distracted driving and the inclination to show off for friends,” said DriversEd.com founder Gary Tsifrin. “By recognizing these common mistakes, we hope that teenagers will be able to avoid the risks associated with being a teenager behind the wheel.”

The most common mistakes are:

  • Being distracted behind the wheel
    Cell phones, CDs, food and even text messages can pose serious distractions to drivers. In some cases, drivers will even text message their backseat passengers. Distracted driving contributes to 80 percent of collisions.
  • Taking too many risks
    Actions like ignoring traffic signals or school zone signs and changing lanes without checking blind spots are all considered “risky behavior.” The difference between risky behavior and distracted driving is that risky behavior is deliberate, while distracted driving is often the result of ignorance.
  • Speeding
    Most drivers occasionally speed, but teens do so because they don’t have a good sense of how a car’s speed can affect their response time. On average, teens drive faster than all other drivers as a whole. They will exceed speeds on residential roads that they interpret as empty because they haven’t had any close calls there. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that speeding factored into roughly one-third of all fatal crashes in 2005 when teenagers were behind the wheel – some 50 percent more than it did in fatal crashes for 20- to 49-year-olds.
  • Overcrowding the car
    Teens frequently overcrowd their cars, cramming five or six into a cabin meant to seat four or five. Worse yet, the extra passengers often result in teens driving more aggressively. The distractions of carrying too many passengers can have serious consequences as well.
  • Driving under the influence
    When teens drink and drive, they’re even less likely to practice safe habits like seat belt usage: Of the 15- to 20-year-olds killed after drinking and driving in 2003, 74 percent were unrestrained, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Because teenagers are too young to drink legally, they’re also less likely to call their parents to come get them when they shouldn’t drive.
  • Following too closely
    Maintaining a proper following distance is a critical step in preventing accidents. At 60 mph, a typical car needs between 120 and 140 feet to reach a full stop. Most SUVs require an extra 5 to 10 feet on top of that. Consider that 60 mph translates to 88 feet per second and it’s easy to see why maintaining a proper following distance is a critical step in preventing accidents.
  • Driving unbuckled
    A 2003 survey by NHTSA reported that 79 percent of drivers ages 16 to 24 said they wore their seat belts regularly, while 84 percent of the overall population did so. Approximately 21 percent of young drivers do not wear their seat belts regularly. Many young drivers have a sense of invincibility that also factors into teen speeding. Fortunately, many cars today have seat belt reminders that flash warning lights or chime until belts are secured. Call them annoying, but they help keep occupants buckled.
  • Not being able to handle emergencies
    Knowing how to avoid an accident comes with driving experience. Young drivers can only learn so much in the classroom, which leaves learning maneuvers like straightening out a skid or how to apply the brakes correctly to real-world experience. Speeding and distracted driving only make things worse, as they compound the lack of experience by putting drivers at higher risk of encountering an emergency situation in the first place.
  • Driving drowsy
    Drowsy driving affects an unlikely group: the so-called “good kids.” That means straight-A students or those with a full plate of extracurricular activities. Overachievers have a lot of pressure. If they’re playing varsity sports and are also preparing for an AP English exam, and if they’ve been going since 7 a.m. and now it’s midnight and they have to get home, they don’t think, “I’m too tired to drive.”
  • Choosing the wrong car and not maintaining it
    Too often, a combination of tight budgets and high style leads teens to pass up important safety features for larger engines and flashy accessories. A teen or novice driver will opt for a cool-looking sports car rather than a car that’s really a safer choice. Then, if they sink all their money into it, they might be remiss in maintaining it.
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