Automobile crashes are the leading cause of death for our nation's teens, and they are more common among young drivers than any other group. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there were 3,115 fatalities involving teenagers, and analysis of fatal crash data indicates that crashes involving teenage drivers are more likely due to driver error. Impact Teen Drivers, a nonprofit organization that provides awareness about responsible driving, with the goal of reducing the number of injuries and deaths suffered by teen drivers, reports that the fatality rate for drivers ages 16 to 19 is four times higher than for drivers ages 25 to 69. What's more, they note that an overwhelming majority of these crashes are caused by inexperience or distractions, not thrill-seeking or risk-taking.
With such staggering statistics, it is important to remember that driver education does not stop after behind-the-wheel training—it is an ongoing process that requires extensive experience and attention to new and different scenarios. During National Teen Driver Safety Week, which runs from October 14-20, the California Office of Traffic Safety urges parents to recommit to continuing their teen drivers' education beyond their driver test.
The following tips can go a long way toward making sure your teen develops, and practices, safe driving behavior:
- Use positivity, not scare tactics — Positively engaging your teen is an effective way of bringing their attention to these issues without creating an atmosphere in which they feel attacked. Focusing on the deadly impacts of unsafe driving is a popular way to reach teens, but a long-term foundation can be created by affirming good driving habits. Instead of telling them what not to do, try focusing on what good driving behavior is—wearing a seatbelt, driving focused and undistracted, and driving alert—both substance-free and well-rested.
- Use real-world situations to create an environment for teaching and learning — Letting your teen drive more often while you're in the car gives you an opportunity to encourage good driving practices, such as adequate speed and following distance, and correct other behavior as it’s happening. It's also important to use the times you're behind the wheel, with your teen in the car, to set a positive example by wearing a seatbelt at all times, driving at a safe speed and following distance, and eliminating distractions as you drive. Remember, 80 percent of all crashes stem from driver inattention!
- Remember, unsafe driving doesn't stop at graduation — A lot of the focus on teen drivers falls on high school-aged teens, but out of sight should not mean out of mind. Teens starting college often experience more freedom, less supervision, and easier access to drugs and alcohol. A strong foundation can go a long way, but it is important to continue to educate young drivers by reminding them of responsible driving practices and ensuring that they understand the responsibility that comes with more freedom.
- Use resources, including other kids – Get your teen involved in any of the many in-school and peer-to-peer programs like Start Smart, Right Turn, Teen Smart, Every 15 Minutes, Friday Night Live, Sober Graduation, and Teens in the Driver's Seat.
By using positive messages, consistently encouraging safe behavior, and being a positive role-model themselves, parents can make a serious impact in lowering the number of crashes and fatalities among teen drivers. For more information on National Teen Driver Safety Week and other tips on keeping your teen safe behind the wheel, visit the California Office of Traffic Safety at www.ots.ca.gov
, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at www.nhtsa.gov
, and Impact Teen Drivers at www.impactteendrivers.org