National Teen Driver Safety Week runs from October 21-27. This national campaign is designed to raise awareness about safety concerns affecting young drivers and to encourage parents to start a dialogue about defensive driving and make smart choices in the driver’s seat.
Distracted driving is one of the major dangers teens face on the road. In 2016, distracted driving took more than 3.400 lives and injured hundreds of thousands more. Distracted driving is any task that takes attention from the road, and while every driver is at risk for distractions, teen drivers who have less driving experience may be more vulnerable to the dangers of distracted driving. The use of smartphones also contributes to the prevalence of distractions behind the wheel, and texting and driving is one of the many deadly habits that can contribute to crash risks among teen drivers. According to a 2013 article in Newsday, texting and driving is “the leading cause of death for teen drivers.”
While distracted driving has quickly become the number one killer of teen drivers, drug and alcohol use still contribute to teen deaths on the road. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, “one in 10 teens in high school drinks and drives.” Statistics from the CDC also note that alcohol contributed to 20 percent of fatal crashes involving teens: “ 1 in 5 teen drivers involved in fatal crashes had some alcohol in their system in 2010. Most of these drivers (81%) had BACs higher than the legal limit for adults.”
Not all crashes and fatalities involved distracted driving or drugs and alcohol, however. As teen drivers are inexperienced on the road, small errors in judgment also can mean the difference between life and death. All drivers should wear a seat belt, obey the speed limits and follow the rules of the road. When a car is speeding at 55 miles per hour, one poor decision or error can lead to a crash.
So how can parents help encourage safe driving and help young drivers make smarter decisions on the road? During National Teen Driver Safety Week, start a dialogue with teen drivers about defensive driving, safe habits on the road and the dangers of distracted and drunk driving. If a teen is newly licensed, create a driver’s contract that outlines the rules and regulations of his/her driving privileges. A driver’s contract should include sections about the rules of the road, distracted driving (including cell phone use), drinking and driving, and what to do after a crash. Teens should sign the contract and keep a copy for their records.
Ideally, parents also should use National Teen Driver Safety Week to demonstrate good driving habits and discuss the rewards for defensive and safe driving. Teens learn by doing, but they also learn by example. Parents need to model good driving habits when teens are sitting in the passenger seat. Parents who talk, text or engage in risky behavior behind the wheel show young drivers that this is acceptable…and safe. When teens show parents that they are making smart and safe choices while driving, their efforts should be rewarded. Set goals for teen drivers; after six months of no accidents or tickets, allow teens to gain more road freedom.
For parents who are unsure how to begin the dialogue about safe driving or how to discuss the dangers of distractions, there are resources that can be used to guide the conversation. The statistics for drinking and driving are heartbreaking, and parents can discuss the issue by using these statistics and facts provided by TeenDrive as talking points. Many parents also don’t know that even common apps used by teens can be dangerous and distracting during drive time. Use this list of apps as a resource for deciding what can and cannot be used while mobile. And for parents who want to be extremely proactive in ensuring that teens learn to drive with caution, be sure that teens understand all the safety techniques necessary for mastering defensive driving. Parents also should practice vehicle maneuvers with teens, because panicking could lead to an error in judgment that causes a crash.
While safe driving habits for teens should be encouraged from the moment a teen receives a driver’s permit, National Teen Driver Safety Week propels the conversation to the forefront and encourage parents to discuss the importance of safe and defensive driving. Young drivers lack the experience on the road and this naiveté can result in poor decisions, reckless driving or even distracted driving. Keep cell phones off limits during drive time, engage teens in discussions about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and distractions on the road and reinforce habits needed for staying safe on the road. Be proactive, be honest and lead by example to help young drivers always arrive alive.