Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teens and young adults. More than 5,000 young people die every year in car crashes and thousands more are injured. Drivers who are 16 years old are more than 20 times as likely to have a crash as are other drivers. State and local laws, safe driving programs and driver's education classes all help keep teens safe on the roads. Parents can also play an important role in keeping young drivers safe. This article has been developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics to inform parents about the risks that teen drivers face and how parents can help keep them safe on the roads.
WHY TEENS ARE AT RISK
There are two main reasons why teens are at a higher risk for being in a car crash; lack of driving experience and their tendency to take risks while driving.Lack of ExperienceHOW PARENTS CAN HELP
Teens drive faster and do not control the car as well as more experienced drivers. Their judgment in traffic is often insufficient to avoid a crash. In addition, teens do most of their driving at night, which can be even more difficult. Standard driver's education classes include 30 hours of classroom teaching and 6 hours of behind the wheel training. This is not enough time to fully train a new driver.
Teen drivers are more likely to be influenced by peers and other stresses and distractions. This can lead to reckless driving behaviors such as speeding, driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and not wearing safety belts.
Establish and discuss "house rules" about driving even before your teen gets a license. Remind your teen that these rules are in place because you care about his or her safety. If your teen complains about the rules, stand firm. You might say something like, "I don't care what other parents are doing - I care about you and don't want you to get in a crash." Remember, you control the car keys. Don't hesitate to take away driving privileges if your teen breaks any rules. Resist the urge to break the house rules yourself and let your teen drive because it is too much trouble for you to drive. Instead, try to arrange a car pool of parents and take turns driving.
By slowly increasing driving privileges, you can help your teen get the experience needed to drive safely and responsibly. Here are some suggestions on how you can create a licensing program of your own for your teen driver. It may not be necessary to use all of the following restrictions, choose the ones that make the most sense for you and your teen.
- Teen must be at least 15 1/2 years old or have a legal learners permit.
- Teen must drive with a licensed adult driver at all times, the parent if possible.
- No driving between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. or no driving after sunset.
- Driver and all passengers must wear safety belts.
- No use of tobacco, alcohol or other drugs.
- Teen must remain ticket-free and crash-free for 6 months before moving up to the next stage.
- Teen must be at least 16 years old or have driven with a learner's permit for at least 6 months.
- Teen must drive with a licensed adult driver during nighttime hours, the parent if possible.
- Teen allowed to drive unsupervised during daytime hours.
- No use of tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs.
- Driver and all passengers must wear safety belts.
- Teen must remain ticket-free and crash-free for 12 months before moving up to the next stage.
- Teen must be at least 18 years old or have driven at least 2 years at the previous stage.
- No restrictions on driving as long as the teen driver remains ticket-free and crash-free for 6 months.
- No use of tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs
- Driver and all passengers must wear safety belts
OTHER WAYS PARENTS CAN HELP:
- Require that your teen maintain good grades in school before he or she can drive. Check with your auto insurance company to see if any "good student" discounts are available.
- Set a good driving example (no use of alcohol or other drugs, no speeding, always wear your safety belt, and require that safety belts be worn by all passengers).
- Remind your teen how important it is to stay focused on driving, not getting distracted by excessively loud music or talking on a cellular phone.
- Let your teen know that driving after drinking or using other drugs will not be tolerated. Tell your teen to always call you or someone else for a ride any time he or she or any other driver has been drinking or using drugs. Let your teen know that you will pick him or her up. However, if you find he or she was drinking, it may be better to wait until the next day before you discuss the incident.
- Be alert to any signs that your teen has a drinking or other substance abuse problem. If you suspect a problem, urge your teen to talk with his or her pediatrician or school counselor. Such trusted adults can refer your teen for other help, if needed.
- Support efforts to protect teens. These might include "safe ride" programs or Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Encourage alcohol-free community events.
- Encourage schools to teach about the dangers of driving after drinking or using drugs.
- Support showing safety films in schools. Also support efforts to promote safety belt use in all vehicles that take children and teens to and from school.
Driving is a privilege and a big responsibility. Teen drivers, because of their age and inexperience, are at a higher risk for car crashes. Licensing programs, rules of the road, and safe ride programs are designed to help teen drivers stay safe. Along with support and encouragement from parents, these programs are the best way to help teens learn to become responsible drivers.
American Academy of Pediatrics Publication #HE0026 - used with permission
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