October 15-21, 2017, is National Teen Driver Safety Week. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among teens aged 15-20. This is due to many reasons;
- teens are easily distracted
- they’re inexperienced
- they tend to think that they’re invincible, which leads them to take risks such as driving too fast or driving under the influence
If you have a teenager who is driving or about to get his or her license, here are some tips on keeping them safe, not only during National Teen Driver Safety Week but all year long.
1. Minimize Distractions While Driving
Driving while distracted is a very common cause of motor vehicle accidents. There are a great many distractions that could divert someone’s attention from the road, but when it comes to teens, cellphones and friends are likely the most dangerous.
Friends – In some states, newly minted drivers are not allowed to have teenage passengers in the car with them. Why? The risk of death by car crash doubles when teen drivers are transporting friends. Young people tend to take more risks when they’re with their buddies. They’ll also get too involved in conversations and will tend to fool around and stop paying attention to the road.
Cellphones – Cellphones, smartphones in particular, are another big danger. Most of us have to consciously resist the temptation to glance at our phones when we hear a text chime. Teens are often on various types of social media, and this can tempt them into taking selfies while driving, making videos of things they see on the road while the car is in motion, answering Snapchats, and doing a wide variety of other activities that are simply not safe to do while driving.
When you talk to your child about teen driver safety, make sure you discuss these distractions and how they can minimize them.
Set strict boundaries: Maybe they can’t drive with more than one friend, only certain friends are allowed to be in the vehicle while your teen is driving, and cellphones must be placed in the glove compartment on silent while driving.
2. Manage Emotions and Attitudes While Driving
If you are the parent of a teenager, you know that their emotions can change on a dime. When driving, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, frustrated, upset, or angry. These emotions might be the result of road conditions, other drivers, or even an argument with a friend that happened hours earlier. If your teen does not have control of his or her emotions, this can result in speeding, slamming on the brakes, cutting off another driver, or even road rage incidents.
Discuss with your teen the dangers of letting their emotions take control when they’re driving the car. If they feel upset, they need to pull over. Never, ever instigate another driver. Let your teen know that if they don’t feel emotionally able to handle driving, you’ll pick them up and go back for the car later.
3. Be Ready to Respond
Your teen should be ready to respond to whatever happens while driving. This means that they should have their eyes straight ahead on the road, they should know whether there are other vehicles in the lanes on either side of them, and they should have two hands on the steering wheel. They shouldn’t be eating, smoking, putting on makeup, or doing anything else while driving. The radio should be turned down to a low level; it’s important that they are able to hear a police siren behind them or a car honking on the side of them. Talk through these types of things with your teenager when discussing teen driver safety.
4. Promise to Give Your Teen a Ride No Matter What
One way you might be able to keep your teen safe is to promise to give your teen a ride home no matter what. This means that if your teen calls you at 2 am because they’ve been drinking and can’t drive home from a party they were not supposed to be at, you simply show up and bring them home without a lecture. The behavior needs to be addressed, but in the moment, the most important thing is getting your teen home safely.
Some families have a special code that means “I’m uncomfortable and I want you to come get me.” This is a great tip for safety even outside of preventing car accidents. It might mean that your teen texts you with a specific message or that they call you and say a specific phrase. Many teens are shy about telling their friends that they are uncomfortable or that they want to go home, so having this type of arrangement can allow them to save face while keeping themselves safe.
5. Get Into the Habit of Buckling Up
If there’s one habit that can make a big difference in your teen’s safety as both a driver and a passenger, it’s buckling his or her seatbelt. This is the case whether your teen is in the front seat or the back seat. Most of today’s teens grew up being buckled into car seats, booster seats, and then the regular seatbelt, so it’s likely that your teen is already in the habit. If they aren’t, now is the time to help them get there. Insist on them buckling up every time you go somewhere. Even if they haven’t been in the habit to this point, that will get them on the right track quickly.
In addition, your teen should encourage his or her friends to buckle up. This helps keep the friends safe, and it can also keep your teen safe. Anyone who is unrestrained becomes a projectile in a crash, and it’s not unheard of for an unrestrained passenger to be thrown into a restrained passenger, seriously injuring or even killing the person who was wearing their seatbelt.
It’s very difficult to hand over the car keys to our inexperienced teenagers, but driving is something that almost all teens will eventually need to do. Talk to your teen about these issues and don’t be afraid to supervise their driving even after they’ve earned their license. If they break any of the rules (regarding cellphones, friends in the car, seatbelts, drinking, or anything else), do not hesitate to revoke driving privileges temporarily. Keeping your teen safe behind the wheel is a matter of trust and communication. Use the upcoming National Teen Driver Safety Week as a good opportunity to start discussions on the topic.