Getting a driver’s license is one of the most exciting events in a teenager’s life. For most teens, a license equals freedom and a step toward adulthood. But for parents, this day can be extremely stressful because car accidents are the leading cause of death for teenaged drivers.
Parents play a key role in preventing teen crashes. Believe it or not, when asked whose opinions they listen to, teens most often said their parents,” says Erin Sauber-Schatz, PhD, MPH, of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Risky behaviors like speeding, not wearing a seat belt and texting while driving obviously increase the likelihood of an accident. But it is important for parents to know that every teen is at risk for an accident based solely on inexperience, which is the leading cause of crashes. This explains why most collisions involving teens occur within the first 6 months of licensure.
A study conducted by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found these to be the three most common errors leading to teen collisions:
- Failing to scan the surroundings and inability to detect and respond to hazards
- Going too fast for conditions
- Being distracted by something inside or outside of the vehicle
The more experienced the driver, the less the likelihood that he or she will make these beginner mistakes. Says the CDC’s Sauber-Schatz, “It’s a new skill that they have to learn and they need to practice.”
5 Things You Can Do to Help Your New Teen Driver
If your teen is starting to drive and you’re not sure where to start. Here are 5 things you can do to help your teen be a responsible driver.
- Be a positive example. A parent should consider each car ride as an opportunity to teach and show their child different strategies as they encounter situations on the road. Over time, this will create hours and hours of teachable moments between parent and child, particularly if the teen has gotten the opportunity to drive and experience different conditions, such as rain, traffic and at different times of the day.
- Help teens practice. A parent should help their child get as much experience behind the wheel as they can by allowing them to drive once they have a legal permit. “They need to practice with the parent, so that the parent can pass on their knowledge and experience,” Sauber-Schatz states. She advises parents to “be sure that the driving conditions are varied, so that the teen gets a variety of experience and is gradually introduced to more complex driving situations while still being protected.”
- Know the state rules. Every state has rules for permitted drivers such as the requirement that they drive with another licensed driver age 18 or over until they get a valid California Driver’s License. Any and all information related to driving restrictions and requirements can be found at your local Department of Motor Vehicles.
- Create rules. As exciting as it can be to get a learner’s permit and a driver’s license, parents need to set clear boundaries and rules for driving. The purpose of these rules is not control, but rather safety and the rules can be simple. Irresponsible driving (such as tickets, driving while distracted or driving while intoxicated) will result in losing driving privileges. To the teen, a loss of driving privileges equals a loss of freedom, so parents have great leverage here.
- Use a Parent-Teen driving contract. This is a document that details the parental expectations for safe driving and the associated consequences for violating the rules. This requires parents and teens to sit down and go over the agreement, explaining their expectations while at the same time encouraging safe driving. The CDC offers a standard parent-teen driving contract ready for download.
Getting a driver’s license for the first time can be exciting and can give a teen that first taste of freedom. But due to the number of accidents, injuries and death that occur with teen drivers, it is important that parents take this new responsibility seriously. By following some of the recommendations above, parents can play a crucial role in helping to reduce accidents and hopefully preventing injury and death.
Teen Car Accident Infographic
Here is an infographic with some interesting teen car accident statistics. You can embed this infographic from our teen car accident infographic page.