Have a Teen Driver? Here's Safety Advice for the Long Haul
Awareness and being prepared can help new teen drivers.
Kathleen Miller, a columnist from Sammamish Patch, has gathered advice from experts in Washington state, however their tips and suggestions are important for parents across the country to pay attention to:
Getting a driver’s license represents a dream come true for most teens. But for many parents, it can be a nightmare. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, accounting for more than one in three deaths in this age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash.
Despite the grim statistics, there are many things parents can do to help teens make better choices while learning to drive and after getting his or her license. Two Eastside police department employees and a professional driving instructor share talk about the greatest risks to teen drivers and how to stay safe.
Teach Teens To Avoid Distractions While Driving
Jim Bove is the community outreach facilitator for the Redmond Police Department. Bove explained that the number one issue that causes accidents among teen drivers, and many adult drivers, “is distracted driving due to texting, talking on cell phones, talking to passengers, radios, hand held items, eating, etc....Speeding would be another concern just because many kids don't understand the potential consequences to drivers and other pedestrians.”
Bellevue Police Officer Rob Wood, manager of the Bellevue Police Factoria Community Station, agreed. He cited statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that in 2009, 20 percent of all injury crashes involved reports of distracted driving, including driving while talking or texting on a cell phone, eating or even changing the radio station. “When you are driving and multi tasking you are no longer driving defensively,” he said.
Make Time to Drive With Your Teen and Teach Defensive Driving Skills
Wood said that teaching his three adult children to drive defensively and “constantly pay attention while driving” were among the key skills he hopes all Eastside parents will work on with their teens. Parents must make the time to drive with their kids, Wood said, both during driving instruction and once they get a driver’s license. “Every time you drive with them, you are going to teach them something valuable,” he said.
Teens Need Experience Driving in Adverse Weather
One of the skills Wood taught his kids was how to drive in adverse weather. On a snowy winter day, he took them out to a fair ground parking lot to learn how to control a car safely while driving on snow and ice.
Phil Goodman is the Redmond-based service delivery manager for SWERVE Driving School. He agreed with Wood that parents should take their teens out to drive in adverse weather to gain the skills they will need to be safe drivers. “The most important thing parents can do to prepare their students for bad weather is instill good driving habits. In emergencies, we fall back on habits. If students have created safe driving habits during good conditions they will be much more prepared to handle whatever weather comes their way,” he said.
Every Teen Can Make Mistakes Driving Due to A Lack Of Experience And Judgment
“One of the most important things parents can do to make your son or daughter a safe driver is to gradually build toward having them do all of the work during practice. The goal should be that they can independently and correctly deal with every driving situation you encounter," he said.
"If you're doing a visual check, get them to do it with you. When you see it's safe to lane change, get them to identify that and say it. If your teen never builds independence during supervised practice, their risk of a crash increases when they're driving on their own. Work toward independence and your teen is more likely to be successful when you're no longer in the passenger seat.”
Goodman said that one of the basic challenges teen drivers face is that they lack experience and judgment. “We speak of lack of judgment when it comes to teen drivers. Lack of judgment means that teens do not have the same depth of experience on which to base their risk assessment. As such, they may make a less than adequate decision. This lack of experience and lesser judgment tends not to be recognized by teens. They cannot see what they never had or are yet to develop. They cannot appreciate their lack of experience and as such will argue that they are fully capable of assessing risk as capably as older adults," he said.
Even teens that have consistently made good choices can make mistakes while driving, Goodman said. “Some parents think that because they trust their teen or because their teen is generally good or because the teen is convincing, that their teen will exercise good judgment in the use of the car. However, parents are cautioned to remember that their teen's good judgment just doesn't have the wealth of experience to back it up. No matter how good or well-meaning the teen, they simply are not fully equipped for the responsibility and management of a motor vehicle under all circumstances,” he said.
Your Job Isn’t Done When Your Teen Gets A Driver’s License
Goodman cautions parents about considering their job coaching a teen about safe driving practices done when a teen gets his or her driver’s license. In fact, the first year a teen has a license may be the most dangerous time for him or her. “Insurance companies do not consider young persons experienced until about age 25 because their crash statistics show that this is the age when crashes start to significantly decline. Insurers also know that the first year of driving remains the most risk filled point in a young person's life. Teen driver car crashes are the leading cause of permanent injury and death in teens and the first year of driving is the most dangerous," he said.
"Parents must talk with their teens and set limits and determine responsibilities, expectations and restrictions on the use of the car to reduce the risk of their child's involvement in a crash. Parents do know better and it's not until the teen is over age 25 that they will truly understand or appreciate the actions taken by their parents.”
Get Your Teen A Car Safety Kit And Make Sure He Or She Knows What To Do If An Accident Happens
When your teen starts driving, Wood said, make sure he or she has a cell phone in the car in case of an emergency. Also, make sure he or she also has a basic safety kit that includes a flashlight, jumper cables, a wrench, screwdriver and other basic tools.
Also, Wood said, make sure your teen knows what to do if he or she gets into an accident. That includes calling 911 if the accident isn’t on private property, exchanging information with the other drivers and taking photos or notes of the damage.
Agreements That Could Save Your Teen’s Life
SWERVE also provides families with a “safe driving contract” that both the parent and student sign. It makes it clear what the expectations are for both the teen and parent and that driving is a privilege that can be taken away if the teen breaks the contract.
Wood said that parents also want to make an agreement with a teen that he or she can call the parent at any hour to be picked up and safely driven home, without worrying about immediate consequences. This is necessary when the teen or a friend is impaired by alcohol, a controlled substance or lack of sleep. Goodman also advises that parents continue to pick up a teen late at night. “If your teen intends on being out after midnight, continue to give them a ride as you did before they got their license. It is better to lose some sleep than pick your teen up at the hospital or morgue,” he said.