By Gayle Whitworth, Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent at UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County
Reviewed by Ricki McWilliams, Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, University of Florida Extension, Walton County
This post is in honor of Teen Driving Awareness Month.
My daughter turned 15 in October, and since then I have been hearing quite a lot about her desire to get a learner’s permit. I guess she feels ready to learn to drive, but I’m not there yet!
Maybe it’s because I’m not willing to admit she has grown up so fast, or maybe it’s because I know the dangers of the road (or maybe it’s because she still asks which pedal is the gas and which is the brake). One thing is for sure: as she takes the steps necessary to get a permit to learn to drive, it is up to me to make sure she learns to be both an offensive and a defensive driver in order to stay safe.
Teens and Cars: The Dangers
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the U.S. Statistics tell us that teens aged 16 to 19 are at greater risk of being in a motor vehicle crash than any other age group. And, per mile driven, they are almost three times more likely to be in a fatal crash than drivers 20 or older.
The risk of crashing is particularly high during the first few months of being licensed. In addition, for teens ages 16 or 17, the risk of being killed in a crash while driving increases as the number of young passengers (under 21) in the car increases. The numbers are frightening: 44% higher risk when carrying one passenger, double the risk when carrying two passengers, and quadruple the risk when carrying three or more passengers.
Fewer Skills, Riskier Behavior
There are many factors that make teens more likely to be involved in and/or killed in a crash. They aren’t as skilled at estimating and recognizing dangerous or hazardous situations, and they’re more likely to speed and to fail to maintain a safe following distance, They’re also less likely to wear a seat belt. In fact, teens have the lowest seat belt usage rate of any age group.
In addition, the risk of being involved in a crash where alcohol is a factor is greater for teens than for older drivers. In 2012, 23% of drivers aged 15 to 20 who were involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes had been drinking. Of these, 71% were not wearing a seat belt.
Protecting Your Young Driver
So what can we do to help keep our teen drivers safe? Understanding the leading causes of teen crashes can help us teach our teen drivers what they need to do to stay safe. To reduce risk, practice the following.
- Understand your state’s graduated drivers’ licensing (GDL) program (all 50 states and Washington, D.C. have them).
- Use a parent-teen driving agreement to put rules in place for driving. (Visit the Further Reading section for examples.)
- Supervise your teen’s driving for at least 30 to 50 hours over at least a six-month period. Allow for experience on various types of roads at different times of day and night, as well as in different weather and traffic conditions. Remind them to always scan for potential hazards, such as other vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
- Follow your state’s GDL system for passenger restrictions. If none are in place, limit the number of teen passengers in the vehicle to zero or one. Keep this rule in effect for at least the first six months after your teen is licensed.
- Limit driving to daytime hours (no later than 9 pm) for the first six months after your teen is licensed.
- Make sure your teen understands the importance of seat belts and wears them AT ALL TIMES.
- Stress the importance of eliminating driving distractions. This includes talking on his or her cell phone, texting, eating, or fiddling with radios, CD players, or MP3 players. Consider requiring your teen to turn off his or her cell while driving–and make sure you’re not contributing to this problem. Ironically, research finds that many teens talking on their phones while driving are talking to mom or dad!
- Stress with your teen the importance of following the speed limit and matching speed to road conditions. Remind them to keep enough space between their vehicle and the one ahead to avoid a crash in the event of a sudden stop.
- Be a good role model by not drinking and driving.
Ready or not, our children will grow up and will face the task of learning to drive. Our job is to continue to do all we can to keep them safe. By understanding the dangers teens face, taking time to discuss these dangers with your teen, and providing them with opportunities for practicing their skills, you’ll be rewarded with a teen driver who knows how to be safe on the road. But remember, teens have been watching you drive all their life. So, be ready to teach, but also be ready to be re-taught the rules of the road and safety!
Information on Impaired Driving and Stats on Teen Drinking and Driving:
Parent-Teen Driving Agreements:
Teen Driving Guides/Programs:
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (2012). Teen Drivers’ Risk Relation to Age and Number of Passengers. Retrieved from https://www.aaafoundation.org/content/teen-driver-risk-relation-age-and-number-passengers-0
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention. (2014). Teen Drivers: Get the Facts. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/MotorVehicleSafety/Teen_Drivers/teendrivers_factsheet.html