Teens and Cars: Keeping Teens Safe

Parents today display their pride for their children in various ways, even to placing a bumper sticker on the car that declares their child is an honor student. The very car that announces parental pride can become the one in which their child dies. The leading cause of death among the 15-20 year old population is car accidents. Teens comprise only 7% of licensed drivers; however, they account for 14% of the fatalities and 20% of all accidents as reported by the Insurance institute for Highway Safety.

Teenagers have the highest crash risk rate of any age group. This rate is four times higher than for other drivers. Factors in crashes include speed, alcohol and drugs, tailgating and ignoring the right of way, fatigue, and reckless driving. The most dangerous time is when a teen is transporting other teens as this is a major distraction. Driver error and speeding are likely to be the cause for most teen accidents.

Why do young drivers have so many accidents?

Inexperience at driving
Just as learning how to play a sport, learning to drive takes time. Handing over the car keys without a substantial period of supervision can be deadly for the teen driver.

Risk-taking behavior and lack of maturity
High risk behaviors such as speeding, drinking and driving and inattentiveness and not using a seat belt are indications of immaturity.

Great risk exposure
A high risk is teens driving at night with other teens for passengers.

Graduated Driver Licensing Program

The riskiest time is when teens initially start driving. They lack experience. A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed a 26% decrease in fatal crash rates of 16 year old drivers from 1993-2003. The study further attributed this decline to the Graduated Licensing Program instituted by several states, such as Maryland, Ohio, Florida, and California. The expectation is that as more states implement the program of driving restrictions on teens, the crash rate will drop.

The full Graduated Licensing Program has three stages with restrictions on when the teen drives and with whom the teen drives. This system allows the new driver more time to practice driving skills which leads to a more experienced driver. The agenda also requires more supervision and education regarding safe driving skills. Of course, parents are the key to the success of this type of program. The parent must certify that the teen has driven the recommended number of supervised hours. This actively encourages parents to take part in training their teen to drive.

Three stages of the Graduated Licensing Program

Learners permit: This beginning stage requires supervision at all times and restrictions on the number of teens in the car. Before one can advance to stage two, the driver must have no violations. The driver must use his seatbelt and require all passengers to do so. No alcohol is permitted. A driver education program must be completed. This time period is at least six months.

Intermediate license:
Unsupervised driving is permitted in daylight. No unsupervised night driving is permitted at night as this is the most dangerous time for the teen driver. Again the teen is required to have no alcohol, no crashes or violations prior to moving on to the next stage. Advanced Drivers’ education courses are useful at this time. This period lasts one year.

Full license:
All during restrictions are removed except for the zero tolerance of drinking and driving and of course state driving laws.

Some general driving tips for teens

Wear a seatbelt and require all passengers to wear a seatbelt. Never have more people than seat belts in the car.

Obey the speed limits. When driving too fast, you have less time to stop the vehicle. Tailgating is one factor that increases your risk of an accident.

Always use turn signals to give other drivers a warning as to your intent to turn or stop.

Don’t run red lights.

When the stop light turns green, hesitate a moment to be certain that all cars have crossed the intersection and it is safe to proceed. Be sure to look both ways before starting out.

Do not drink and drive. Do not ride with someone who has been drinking. Call your parents for a pride.

Do not talk on the cell phone, put make-up on, eat, or search for a particular CD while driving. It is a distraction that can prove fatal.

Don’t play with the radio or try to change a CD while driving. Wait until you stop and then change the CD or station.

Don’t assume that an oncoming car with a turn signal on is really going to turn. The driver may have forgotten it was on. Wait to pull out until he is actually into his turn.

What can parents do?

Parents generally are glad to give up the job of “chauffer.” But also worry and are fearful of the increased risks that are involved with letting the teen drive. Yes, there are a few minor inconveniences involved with participation in a Graduated Licensing Program, but the cost of not following the program can be deadly for the teen. What can you do if your state does not require this type of program? You can institute your owns rules and regulations regarding your teen driver. Most importantly make a commitment to teach your teen and to provide many supervised hours of driving.

Instruction tips for parents

Always make “safety” the number one issue
Don’t rush the training–make a commitment to your teen for supervised practice
Know what it is that you want to work on (parallel parking, turning) and give specific
Use a calm tone
Teach your teen to drive defensively to anticipate conditions and situations

There are many resources available to parents and teens through the Internet, through the American Automobile Association, and through insurance companies. By giving your teen more time to develop driving skills and to become more mature, you can decrease his risk of an accident. Isn’t the life of your teen worth it?

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