Rules of the Road: Keep Your Teen Driver Safe
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Getting a driver’s license is an exciting time in a teenager’s life and marks a new era of growth and independence. However, as they say in the Spiderman movies, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and HealthyChildren.org, teen drivers have the highest rate of motor vehicle crashes in the United States, and drivers with less than 18 months of driving experience have four times the risk of a crash or near-crash. Teen driving-related deaths are rising due to technology use, distracted driving, inexperience, speed, and the use of alcohol or drugs.
Here are some tips to keep your young driver safe.
Driving is a skill that takes practice to master.
Practice driving with your teen frequently to reinforce safe driving habits. Inexperience and poor judgment are two reasons teens can get into car crashes. The more time parents spend in the car with teens, the safer they will be. Even if your teen has completed the required hours to get their license, it is still important to practice driving with them and help them become more confident.
Some tips for teaching your teen how to drive safely include:
- Discuss the skills you want to practice before getting in the car.
- Use an even tone of voice and give clear instructions.
- When your teen makes a mistake, ask them to pull over and calmly discuss what went wrong.
- Encourage your teen to make observations aloud while they are driving.
- Ask your teen to reflect on how their driving went after they get out of the car each time.
Fraction the distractions.
There are more distractions than ever for teens on the road, which can cause more crashes.
To minimize distractions while driving:
- Encourage your teen to silence and put away their cell phones. Some phones even have settings so that the phone will not display notifications in a moving vehicle, helping to keep teens safe.
- Teens should avoid driving friends and family if possible. Passengers in a car can distract the driver – every additional passenger increases the risk of a car accident. Some parents start a “no-friends” rule for the first few months of driving or do not allow more than two passengers in the car at a time.
- Keep music at a low volume to avoid distractions. Teens should not adjust the music while driving. Encourage them to choose their music before starting the car, so they do not need to change it later.
- No eating or drinking while driving. Keep those hands on the wheel at all times.
Drop the call.
Cell phones are a common distraction that can lead to car crashes. Teens should not talk on the phone, text, or use their phones for any reason while driving. Even hands-free options can be distracting for an inexperienced driver. Parents should model this behavior and teach their children the importance of putting their phones away in the car.
Don’t drive in the dark.
Nighttime driving poses additional risks. It is more difficult to see and navigate, and teens may be tired, leading to worse judgment. There is a four times higher risk of death in a car crash at night than during the day. Teens should avoid driving at night as much as possible. Parents may choose to implement a curfew, so their children do not drive too late.
Keep a clear head.
Teens should never drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Drivers with alcohol or marijuana in their systems are twice as likely to cause a car crash. Parents should educate their teens about the effects of alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs and encourage them to avoid these substances, especially if driving.
Everybody should strap in.
Parents should always wear a seat belt to model good habits and always encourage teens to follow suit. All the passengers in a car should wear a seat belt to reduce the risk of injury if a crash occurs.
Parents need to create and enforce the rules. If your teen breaks driving rules, there should be consequences, such as taking away the car keys or a verbal warning. Parents can help keep their children and others safe by modeling and teaching teens safe driving practices.
For more information about teen driving safety, visit www.healthychildren.org. You can also contact the Injury Free Coalition for Kids, a Program of the Children’s Trust, at 305-243-9080 or online at www.injuryfree.org.
Written by Erin Albertini, M.D./M.P.H. candidate
with Julie Belkowitz, M.D., M.P.H., Lyse Deus, M.D., and Oneith Cadiz, M.D.