• May 21, 2012
Teen drivers are at serious risk during the summer, esp... Teen drivers are at serious risk during the summer, especially if they aren't responsible on the road (Ford).
The period of time between Memorial Day and Labor Day is the most dangerous time of the year for teens to be on the road, according to Tire Rack Street Survival, a national non-profit teen driving education program. Statistics show that from the past five years combined, an average of eight teens (aged 16-19) were killed in car accidents every single day during these few months -- a trend that is likely to continue in 2012.

That's some extremely sobering data. Knowing that approximately 34.8 million people will make a road trip this coming holiday weekend, according to AAA, it is all the more imperative that your teen driver be safety conscious, free of distractions and aware of what to do in an emergency when behind the wheel.

What follows are some tips that you, the parent, can use to help keep your teen a safe and responsible driver -- even before they are licensed -- drastically reducing their likelihood of being in a serious or fatal accident. Education and experience are the most important aspects of being a good driver. Make sure your teen has plenty of both before they're on the road this summer.

1. Get them to come home and talk

"You have to keep it an emotionally safe conversation, watching the eyeball rolling and tones of voices," says Dr. Charles Sophy, a psychiatrist who specializes in family communication. "You want them to come home and tell you if they are having problems."

Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) say authoritative parents who set rules, explain why those rules are in the teen's best interest, and then set consequences when rules are broken, are the parents who have the most influence on their child's safety. The hospital hosts a web site called Teen Driver Source, which includes a section on how parents can supervise teen drivers.

Teens whose parents are actively involved in their day-to-day driving are 70 less likely to use a cell phone while behind the wheel.

2. Delay car ownership

Kids who don't have their own car - those who have to ask their parents permission every time they get behind the wheel – cut their risk of accidents in half.

"You need to be constantly talking about this stuff and reinforcing it," says Pam Fisher, leader of the New Jersey Teen Safe Driving Coalition. Fisher is pushing for coaches and other youth leaders to get into the game, asking them to learn the laws and using their influence to make sure teens are adhering to rules that limit what time they can drive and how many passengers they can have in a car. "Everybody, together, needs to be united in helping reinforce this message."

But teens need to hear that the rules are there for their safety, not because adults want to control them.

Dr. Dennis Durbin, a teen safety researcher at CHOP, says that parents can defuse a lot of situations by explaining that the rules are there sort of like a set of training wheels: Once the teen driver gets more skilled, they can progress to having more people in the car, or driving further, or driving later at night.

3. Teach toddlers and pre-teens safe driving habits

In the opening scene of "The Simpsons," baby Maggie is in the back seat sucking on a pacifier, and seeming to control the car with her plastic steering wheel.

And that's when kids are watching us most intently, before they have books to read and friends to worry about. That's when they're absorbing how we react when a car cuts us off (although drivers who leave enough space between themselves and the car ahead don't generally get cut off), how we deal with our cellphones, and whether or not we wear our seat-belts.

"It starts when your child is still in that car seat," Sophy said. "Be aware of the fact that when you're raging or you're upset or you're cutting someone off, that behavior is being observed."

One of the biggest skills teen drivers lack is the ability to scan the road safely, so now is the time to start pointing things out. It's as easy as saying, "See that truck, how it looks like it's not going to slow down at the stop sign?" Or "See that car up ahead, how it's kind of swerving a bit? Wonder if the driver is on his phone."

You can also point out how the car feels when you're going around a tight curve, or point out how you're slowing down because of the weather.

"One of the toughest things to learn is road feel," said Mike Speck, lead instructor at Ford's Driving Skills For Life.

But again, being a role model is key.

"The single easiest way to teach your kids to drive is to drive they way you want them to drive," says Mike Speck, lead instructor at Ford's Driving Skills For Life.

4. Chill out

Parents start to lose their minds the day their son or daughter has a learner's permit. Sitting in the passenger seat while your teen is at the wheel can be ulcer-inducing. A quiet ride down a neighborhood street can quickly devolve into screaming and tears.

One way to deal with your novice driver is realize he or she is going to make a lot of mistakes. The young driver is not trying to be careless or reckless. A new driver is trying to process sights and sounds they've never experienced, to maneuver a 3,000-pound car down the road without killing themselves and you, and are possibly dealing with a screaming lunatic in the passenger seat.

"When teens make mistakes – and they will, that's what the supervised driving period is all about -- we'd like parents to instinctively think, 'Oh, he must not know how to do that,' and then teach them that skill," Durbin said. "That's one of the tangible things parents can do to help set a more supportive environment in the car."

And if you cannot calm down, find another adult who can.

5. Set hard and fast rules

Once your teens are able to leave the house without you, it's time to set some very clear rules. Explain that these rules are intended to keep them safe, and will be relaxed over time if he or she keeps a clean driving record and follows the rules for six months. No speeding tickets and mandatory seat-belt use are the first basic rules.

Researchers say one of the best things parents can do is prevent teens from having their own car. Sharing the family car means teens are forced to check in with parents regularly, and they are more careful with the vehicle if it's not their own. Car sharing reduces accidents by 53%, research from the Children's Hospital showed.

Then, teens should go six to 12 months without driving other passengers in the car. Not only are passengers distracting, but the consequences in case of an accident could be dire. Do you really want your teen to carry the burden of killing their friend because they made a novice mistake?

These are the limits on teen driving introduced in "graduated licensing" laws in states such as Connecticut and Illinois. But parents can lay down these limits even without the state legislature.

Limit the routes your teen can drive to places they know well. To work, to school, to a handful of friend's homes. No high speed driving until you've practiced that with your teen, and you feel comfortable he or she is capable of handling it on their own.

No driving in inclement weather, especially snow or ice. This is another skill that needs lots of practice, preferably with an experienced driver in the passenger seat. Also, no driving drowsy, like heading out to school after pulling an all-nighter to study for a test.

At all ages: Keep the lines of communication open and let them know they can count on you for help. If they make a mistake, try to stay calm.

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  • 41 Comments
      peekaboo
      • 2 Years Ago
      Even though my son is only 8 years old. I try to teach him all about driving. I teach him that a vehicle is actually a weapon. A deadly weapon at that. My son has been driving four wheelers since he was 2 years old. I have just recently, like this past week, allowed him to take the four wheeler around the field (As I was watching). Normally, he is only allowed on a certain trail. This time, I told him, he could drive around a bit. He loves it, he said he feels so free. I know, that if we teach him these driving habits, or going slow, paying attention to how each choice we make, can have certain consequences, not only when we are driving, but in life. He knows, that he needs to know how to control the vehicle at all times, and if he feels that he is going a proper speed, he will not have a problem. If he starts to go to fast however, he will know, because, he will be afraid that he can't control the vehicle. A four wheeler is not a car, but, that, and go carts, are a great way to ease them into driving. Teaching them, that every thing your telling them, isn't about you controlling them, its about them controlling themselves. It is all about safety, and we need to shield our children from dangers. Experience, is the only way they can truly understand. Give them all the scenerios that can play out, each and every move they make in life, can lead to injuries, and pain. Knowing how to correct the problems before they happen are worth the weight in gold.
      smp276dp
      • 2 Years Ago
      I say if your 18 and could die for your country you should be able to drive. Any younger make the wait until they are 18. Those are the not so good years and they should be made to wait.
      • 2 Years Ago
      because there out of school texting, driving, and friends in the car not a good combination.
      shaunmood
      • 2 Years Ago
      Jessica, statistics are not stereotypes. They are hard evidence. You are taking cold facts personal. Bottom line is, teen drivers are not experienced, and hundreds of thousands have died due to lack of experience and poor judgment.
      bmifflin2011
      • 2 Years Ago
      This article could be summarized very succinctly: Children of parents who take the time to explain the importance of safety while driving, enforce rules, and set a good example are less likely to be involved in serious accidents. I am amazed of the lack of parenting and example setting that I witness on a daily basis...
      Victoria
      • 2 Years Ago
      I've been hit three times, it's always a woman on a phone. I'm a woman so there is no prejudice here. It's time to impress these idiots, teens and phone addicts with the fact that they are driving a lethal weapon, no less dangerous than a gun in the wrong hands and the penalties for being in an accident should be just as severe. Providing they don't kill themselves or someone else. It's not an accident that you kill someone in a driving incident. It's murder plain and simple. If they are too young to drink, too young to buy cigarettes then they are too young to drive. Keep them off the road till their brain matures.
      hroschmann
      • 2 Years Ago
      I remember when I "finally" got my drivers license (in Germany). First of all I had to have perfect grades in Highschool and I had to be 18. Secondly, the driver course took a total of 4 weeks, 4 days a week, 2 hours per day (mostly in the evenings). The course consisted of 40% class room instructions and tests and 60% actual driving instructions. This also covered 1st help, i.e. how to change a tire, diagnostics of basic engine problems, etc. The final test consisted of day and night time driving. The cost of the entire test was $290 which I had to pay - not my parents. In my opinion it is too easy for today's youngsters to get a driving license.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Teen drivers suck nowadays. All they can do is stare at their toy telephones texting LOL, ... etc. etc. etc.. They should all have their drivers licensed revoked.
      Ken
      • 2 Years Ago
      If you are a teenage driver, you should know this: It isn't a matter of will you be involved in an accident, it is only a matter of when and how severe.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I'm a teen and I find it offensive that people are stereotyping ALL teens. I don't drive with the radio on because it is distracting, but if I do turn it on it's just background music; if i don't like the song I leave it alone or have whoever is with me turn it. When I get in the car I put my cell in the middle compartment and don't touch it until I reach my destination. If friends are with me I don't joke around or try acting cool; it would be a horrible thing to kill someone I love. My parents are always driving really close to people that don't go the speed limit but I give those people a whole car length, it's very dangerous to drive that close to someone. I'd rather be very late then dead or injured.
        • 2 Years Ago
        BTW, in my fervor to offer you some important information I neglected to honor what you have done so far to respect the seriousness of driving. Brava to you!!! Please keep it up, your concern and consideration have brightened my day :)
        • 2 Years Ago
        Jessica- Please, Please, Please- research reaction times, stopping distances and velocity at various speeds (in feet per second of car travel) and if you are as intelligent as your writing indicates, you will see that even MULTIPLE car lengths are WAY too close!!!! The best calculations of safe following are based on elapsed time between the car in front of you and you. Consider this: The GMAC Insurance National Drivers Test (please check it out!) recommends three seconds' delay between the car in front of you and you (Pick an object [a telephone pole or shadow on the pavement, for example] and note when the nose of the car in front of you crosses it; now count the delay in seconds until the nose of your car gets there [counting in one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand] and at three seconds, that will be a minimum safe following distance). Most people fail this question on the National Drivers Test (or ignore it, I don't really know how to tell which). I beg you, please set the example for your peers, parents and others. No one, especially adults, listens to the really skilled drivers in the world because their egos get in the way. Please learn the facts! Do NOT use the actions you witness in the other adults on the road as a guideline, even the ones you think are good at it- most people are far less skilled at safe driving than anyone can possibly imagine!! I desperately wish the roads to be safer. Cars have changed so much in the last many years that they cover up seriously unskilled driving habits and few people even realize it. Actually, I prefer a following distance of one second delay for every 10 miles per hour, in order to take my time stopping, but it is overkill for most cars and impossible to keep that distance on a crowded highway. (You will be surprised to see how far that is at even 60 mph!) I learned to drive from a guy (my dad) who was a defensive driving instructor in the '60s. I drive a '68 Fury today, daily, and it requires a lot more training to do it safely. I hope you will honor the power of your driving priviledge, and use it to set a safer example. We can only do it one driver at a time. Please post here if you feel as I do.
      mehndif
      • 2 Years Ago
      It would make sense that the summer months have the most teen accidents.....they aren't in school for 8 hours so that is 8 more hours they have available to be driving around.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I am 62 years old. In my life I have attended the funerals of far too many kids that I loved that died in car accidents including a 1st cousin the night of her high school graduation, the first girl I had a crush on back in high school, and 2 members of my cross country team in high school. There were no cell phones back in those days. Teens are stupid and think that they are invinsable. Pleaase, please parents try as hard as you can to show them that sh*t happens, and that they need to think "safe" rather than "cool".
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