Earning a driver’s license in this country has long been considered a rite of passage for teenagers. This is often among the first steps toward independence and freedom. As part of The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Teen Driver Safety Week, which runs from October 15-21, 2017, Mooney & Associates would like to remind parents of strategies that can improve the safety of young drivers on the road.
HERE’S THE BAD NEWS: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. Teens. Every day six teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 die from motor vehicle injuries. Per mile driven, teen drivers aged 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.
Teens are more likely to underestimate dangerous situations or not be able to recognize hazardous situations. Teens are more likely than adults to make critical decision errors that lead to serious crashes. Teens are more likely than older drivers to speed and tailgate other drivers. Compared to other age groups, teens have among the lowest rates of seat belt use. At all levels of blood alcohol concentration, the risk of involvement in a motor vehicle crash is greater for teens than for older drivers.
A driver’s license is not a right, it is a privilege and it’s important that parents have discussions about the leading causes of teen crashes:
Teens crash most often because they are inexperienced. They struggle judging gaps in traffic, driving the right speed for conditions and turning safely, among other things. When we’re learning to do something new, we’re bound to make common errors. Teens are no different when it comes to driving.
The safest way for them to gain experience is practice, with you to riding along with them frequently. Just 30 minutes a week with you as a passenger in the car can make a big difference. Regardless of whether your teen is responsible, a good student, or excels in other areas, if your teen is a new driver, what matters most is their lack of experience.
Driving with teen passengers
Passengers increase a teen’s risk for a fatal crash. That’s because other passengers can distract an inexperienced driver. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows that a teenage driver is 2.5 more likely to engage in risky behaviors when driving with one teenage passenger and three times more likely when driving with multiple teenage passengers in the car.
As night falls, it’s harder to see and to be seen. Even familiar surroundings look different seen under street lights and lit up by headlights. Crash rates increase for everyone at night, not just teens. That doesn’t mean that teens shouldn’t experience night driving at all; they need to develop this skill through practice.
The best approach is to give your teen plenty of opportunities to learn how to drive at night—with you in the car. If this isn’t possible, then only very gradually should you extend the hours they are allowed to keep the car out as they gain experience over the course of their first year.
Not using seat belts
Of the teens (aged 16-19) who died in passenger vehicle crashes in 2015 approximately 47% were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. Research shows that seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half. Although most Americans (about 88.5 percent) wear seat belts, there still a sizable number who don’t. Unfortunately, teens are the population group least likely to wear their seat belts. It should come as no surprise to learn that most of the teens killed in car crashes were not wearing seat belts.
This is where you behavior—your role modeling—can have a direct impact. As parents, we need to lead by example and make sure we wear our seat belts each time we drive and ensure all of our passengers are buckled before we drive. We need to impress upon our teens that each and every time they get behind the wheel, they need to buckle up.
Driving is the first and only task when behind the wheel. Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system, or fixing hair or makeup —anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.
Texting is the most alarming distraction. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed. You cannot drive safely unless the task of driving has your full attention. Any non-driving activity you engage in is a potential distraction and increases your risk of crashing.
Here is another type of impairment that drivers face and one that is especially dangerous for teens. A tired driver is a dangerous driver. Like many of us (and maybe even more than some adults), teens have busy schedules. There’s school, homework extracurricular activities at school, maybe even have a job, and hanging out with friends and family. With all that, going on, is your teen getting enough rest before hitting the road? With early school start times and packed schedules, make sure your teen has enough sleep before getting behind the wheel in the morning.
Speeding. We’ve all done it at some point in our driving life. It is bad behavior and we shouldn’t pass it on to our kids. As role models, when we do something in the car, our kids think it must be okay for them to repeat the behavior. But despite our best intentions, our teens will probably speed at some point, too. Reckless speeding for racing and thrills is dangerous and hopefully you’ve told your teen it’s unacceptable.
More commonly, teens drive too fast even when they’re driving slower than posted the speed limit—it can still be too fast in poor driving conditions like rain and snow. From experience, you know that when visibility is poor and roads are slippery, reducing your speed below the limit gives you more control over the car. New drivers have yet to learn how their car will react in different traffic and weather situations.
Remember that the skills you use in these situations are a result of years of experience, and your teen needs to acquire that experience by learning with you. Teach your teen to give themselves enough time to get where they are going. If you leave late, you get there late. Never try to make up time on the road.
Nothing good happens when any driver has a few drinks and gets behind the wheel. When it’s an inexperienced driver, the risk is even greater. That’s why, in all 50 states, there are zero tolerance laws for underage drinking and driving. Talk about the fact that mixing alcohol and driving is unacceptable.
Alcohol contributes to more crashes and more highway deaths than cocaine, heroin and every other illegal drug combined. Drugs and alcohol affect our judgment, perception, reflexes and other abilities in many different ways. Even prescription drugs can have strong effects on our minds and our bodies. Teach your teen that driving while impaired is never an option and it’s always better to call for a ride than to get behind the wheel.
Talk to your teenage drivers about safe driving techniques. You may save a life.
Count On Mooney
It’s important to do our best to prepare teenagers to be safe on the road. However, accidents do happen and when they do you need someone you can count on. If you or a family member has been in a motor vehicle accident and have been injured as a result of the accident, call Mooney & Associates right away.
Mooney & Associates has 15 offices spread throughout Central Pennsylvania including: