- May 21, 2012
Why The Next 100 Days For Teen Drivers Are The Deadliest
The summer months see the most young drivers killed in car accidents
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.