There are few things in life more exciting for teenagers, and more unnerving for parents than receiving the license to drive. This important rite of passage marks the first big step toward adulthood and independence for a teen. Parents play a vital role in this transition and must be proactive in educating the new driver to be safe and responsible behind the wheel.
According to a Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) report, overall traffic fatalities dropped during the first half of 2011. However, the number of American 16- and 17-year old teenagers killed in motor vehicle collisions rose 11 percent during the same period, from 190 to 211.
More than 20% of teens in the United States never receive driver’s education prior to receiving their driver’s license. The number of teens who have not received driver’s education is even greater in states which do not require formal training. Driver’s education usually consists of 30 hours of classroom instruction and six hours of training behind the wheel. The original goal of formal driver’s education when it was implemented in the 1950’s was to produce safer teenage drivers, who are four times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle collision than older drivers.
It is not clear, however, that increasing the rate of driver education would result in fewer collisions. According to Jean Shope, a professor at the University of Michigan Transportation Institute, driver education is effective in teaching teens the rules of the road and how to maneuver a vehicle, but it does not necessarily make them safer drivers. Supervised practice driving over a period of many months makes a bigger difference in producing safe teen drivers.
The website www.distraction.gov provides from suggestions on how to keeps teens safe while driving:
- Talk about the consequences of driving distracted with your teen.
- Establish safety rules, including forbidding talking or texting on the phone while driving.
- Have everyone in the family sign a pledge form to drive without distraction.
- Become familiar with your state’s laws about distracted driving, and educate your teen about the legal consequences of distracted driving.
- Be a good role model by turning your cell phone off while you drive.
Other facts and tips for parents to know in raising safe teen drivers include:
Drive Now. Talk Later: Cell phone use is the most common distractions for drivers. Dialing a hand-held device increases the risk of a motor vehicle collision by almost 33%.
Pay Attention. Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the crash. A high percentage of the crashes reported by teens involved rear-ending a car that had stopped while the teen driver was looking away from the road.
Get Ready at Home – Not in the Car. Activities such as applying makeup, fixing your hair, and eating while driving increases the risk of a crash or near-crash by almost 3 times.
Drowsy? Pull Over. Drowsiness is a significant problem that increases a driver’s risk of a crash or near-crash by at least a factor of four.
Limit Teen Passengers. Teen passengers can distract a beginning driver and lead to greater risk taking. Fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers are much more likely to occur when other teenagers are in the car. The risk of a fatal crash increases in proportion to the number of teenage passengers.