By Susan Baldani
A rite of passage for most teens is getting their driver’s license. It’s something that they’ve usually dreamed of for years. For parents, however, giving their kids those car keys can fill them with dread. And they have a right to be concerned. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.”
Instead of living in fear when your teen is out driving, there are things you can do to keep them safe. And parents need to start before the child takes his first drive around the block.
“My biggest concern was obviously their safety,” said Christine Scally, a mother of two sons, ages 16 and 18, who lives in New Jersey. “We have spent a lot of time teaching them defensive driving. Also, we had to have conversations with them about who they let in their car. This became more of an issue once Sean turned 18 and the restriction regarding how many kids he was allowed in the car was lifted.”
Fortunately, laws are in place to make sure teens gain the necessary experience while curtailing how late they can drive, how many people they can have in the car, and in some cases, requiring that a licensed adult is in the car with them. These are called Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Systems and exist in every state in the U.S. as well as in Washington, DC. And these laws do work. As stated on the CDC website, “Research suggests that the more comprehensive GDL programs are associated with reductions of 26% to 41% in fatal crashes and reductions of 16% to 22% in overall crashes, among 16-year-old drivers.”
Seat belt laws also save lives. The website goes on to state that,” Of the teens (aged 16-19) who died in passenger vehicle crashes in 2016, at least 48% were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. Research shows that seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half.”
Teens today also have the more distractions than ever. Cell phones are a huge problem with kids talking and texting while driving. According to DMV.org, “Multiple studies indicate using a cell phone while driving is the equivalent of driving drunk―that’s even when using a hands-free phone.”
Texting can be even worse. “Research shows texting―on average―causes a loss of focus on the road for 4.6 seconds. You can drive the length of a full football field in that time. A lot can go wrong while you drive the length of a football field without your eyes on the road.”
Sometimes technology can be an asset, if used the right way. “One of the rules that we have is that they need to enable their GPS function on their phone so we can find them at all times,” said Scally. “If they do use Google Maps or Waze, we require them to use the voice activated feature so that way they don’t have to look at the phone while driving.”
Speeding, of course, is another major cause of crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports, “In 2017, speed was a contributing factor in 26% of all fatal crashes – and 9,717 people died in those speeding-related crashes. Speeders account for every 3 out of 10 drivers, or about 63.6 million drivers. It’s not just aggressive driving, it’s deadly driving.”
The higher the speed, the more severe the crash and injuries will be. There’s an increase in stopping distance and a greater potential to lose control of the vehicle.
Speed should also be adjusted according to the weather and road conditions, such as snow, rain, and fog, traffic congestion, construction, sun glare and darkness. All of these variables, and not just speed limits, should determine how fast or slow people should go. It’s better to arrive late than to not arrive at all.
Parents can also make defense driving courses a requirement for obtaining a license and getting behind the wheel. According to Safemotorist.com, “With defensive driving classes, students learn to improve their driving skills by reducing their driving risks by anticipating situations and making safe well-informed decisions.”
Some states even offer an insurance discount of up to 10% and a reduction of points on your license, which is a great incentive for all drivers. But learning to drive safely with a high level of skill is the biggest reason to take these courses.
Parents also have to be aware of their own driving habits when their kids are in the car. If they see you speeding, using your phone, not wearing your seat belt and driving aggressively, then they might think that it’s okay for them to do those things as well.
Give your teens the tools they need to be safe on the roads. It will give you peace of mind and make it much easier to hand over those car keys when the time comes.
Written for Roanoke Valley Family Magazine published in Virgina