Parents can help teen drivers stay safe.
Automobile crashes are the leading cause of death among teen drivers nationally and in Utah. According to Utah crash statistics posted on the Utah Department of Public Safety, Highway Safety Office website, teens age 15 to 19 were involved in more crashes than all other groups. Understanding why teens are at risk and then taking an active role as a driving gate keeper can help teens stay safe while driving.
UDOT engineers design roads to be safe as possible, but poor driving choices – like speeding or not using a seat belt – can’t be engineered away. The Center for Disease Control points to eight factors that show why teen drivers are at risk and gives parents advice on how to combat the risky behaviors:
- Driver inexperience. Help teens gain skills by making sure they get driving practice.
- Driving with teen passengers. Limit the number of teen passengers your child can have and maintain the rule for at least the first six months your teen drives.
- Nighttime driving. Limit or restrict night driving for at least the first six months of licensed driving.
- Not using seat belts. The most important way to reduce injuries from a crash is to buckle up. In Utah, over 96% of crash survivors were restrained compared to less than half of the persons killed.
- Distracted driving. Make sure your teen is focused on driving – cell phones, other passengers or listening to music can disrupt driving concentration.
- Drowsy driving. Teens driving in early or late hours can be at risk for driving drowsy.
- Reckless driving. Help teens avoid and understand the consequences for risky behaviors like speeding and tailgating.
- Impaired driving. Be a good example – don’t drink and drive.
Meeting of minds
As many parents know, getting a teenager to comply with family rules is not always easy. Steve Titensor, Clinical Director at the Salt Lake County Division of Youth Services has some suggestions for ways to foster compliance. First, parents and teens need to have serious discussions and “make some agreements” about expectations, rules and consequences. And start those discussions early – during pre-teen years – to avoid surprises.
Once those agreements are reached, follow-through for “both positive and negative” behavior is very important, explains Titensor. If a teen complies with requests to limit driving to daylight hours, for example, praise is in order. Conversely, breaking the rules should prompt the agreed upon consequence.
“Driving is a big responsibility,” not a right, Titensor points out. Parents “shouldn’t feel cornered” into allowing a teen to drive before he or she is ready. Parents need to carefully consider whether teens are mature enough, emotionally and socially, to make good decisions.
More teen driver resources for parents:
- The Utah Safety Council’s Alive at 25 program offers a 4 hour course that teaches decision making skills.
- UDOT partners with DPS to promote ways to reduce fatalities. The Zero Fatalities website has tips for all drivers, and links to the Don’t Drive Stupid campaign for teens.
- The CDC suggests using a driving contract. Many insurance companies provide driving contracts for teens and parents to use as a tool to promote safe driving.
- The CDC’s Parents are the Key website has crash facts and tips.
- Parents Empowered offers proven strategies for preventing teen alcohol use.