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On Parenting
Posted at 01:22 PM ET, 10/15/2012

Making teen driving less risky

Teen drivers are bad drivers. It’s a universal fact, with some exceptions, of course. For the most part, kids behind the wheel tend to possess the unfortunate characteristics of heady enthusiasm, lack of skill and brains wired to make impulsive decisions.

It’s why motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teens. Now, new research from AAA reveals that teens in cars with other teens are even more at risk of an accident than previous research has shown.

What better time to focus on the problem than during Teen Driver Safety Week, seven days set aside to focus on one of the most agonizing problems for parents and kids.

I asked Justin McNaull, an AAA policy analyst who developed the group’s Web site dedicated to safe teen driving and is a former Arlington County police officer as well as a father, to offer guidance for parents on how they might help protect their new drivers. He said the changing trends call for parents to forget the tired old lectures and step up their supervision of their teen driver.

Here’s McNaull’s advice:

The new research helps us better understand the kinds of dangerous crashes that new teen drivers have when they drive with teen passengers. The study found more crashes late at night, more crashes involving speeding and more crashes involving drivers who had been drinking — things that parents certainly worry about. It reinforces the importance of not letting teen drivers transport teen passengers, and that parents should not let their teens ride with new teen drivers. At their worst, teen passengers actively encourage teen drivers to do risky things behind the wheel. Even without trying, they can distract the driver’s attention from the roadway. And at the most basic level, teen passengers themselves are at risk because they’re riding with inexperienced drivers who have the highest crash rates of any age driver.
The new research helps us better understand the kinds of dangerous crashes that new teen drivers have when they drive with teen passengers. The study found more crashes late at night, more crashes involving speeding and more crashes involving drivers who had been drinking — things that parents certainly worry about. It reinforces the importance of not letting teen drivers transport teen passengers, and that parents should not let their teens ride with new teen drivers. At their worst, teen passengers actively encourage teen drivers to do risky things behind the wheel. Even without trying, they can distract the driver’s attention from the roadway. And at the most basic level, teen passengers themselves are at risk because they’re riding with inexperienced drivers who have the highest crash rates of any age driver.
Parents need to set and enforce family rules about driving. Use your state law as a minimum starting point. Be willing to make your rules stronger — no teen passengers at all for at least the first six months, then no more than one for at least the second six months. A parent-teen driving agreement can help set rules that everyone in the family agrees to and lay out consequences for breaking these rules. Find an agreement here [pdf].
New teen drivers should not have unfettered access to a car. Even if a parent has decided that a teen should her own car, she should still have to check in with a parent before each trip to say where she is going, who she is going with, and when she’ll be back. If there’s a change to the plan, she should have to call the parent (and not while driving!). It’s okay for parents to occasionally allow exceptions to a parent-teen driving agreement with advance permission (but don’t break the law). Better to have that dialogue with your teen than to encourage the teen to sneak passengers. Trust and reasonableness are the keys to having the open communication with the new teen driver.
Parents should also continue to practice driving with their teen even after he is licensed to drive on his own. Make sure he has not picked up bad habits. Introduce him to more complex roadways (Beltway, Seven Corners, Dupont Circle) and scenarios (snow, rush hour) with you in the car, instead of on his own. Have him talk about what he’s doing, seeing, anticipating while he’s driving.
Teens can figure out how to keep the car between the white and yellow lines in a couple hours. It takes countless hours of experience, though, for them to internalize the behaviors of a safe, seasoned driver who is prepared for the unexpected.
Don’t forget about the risk to passengers. Research shows that the risk of being injured in a crash as a passenger begins to increase as young as age 12, when middle school-age kids might ride with their older siblings, neighbors, or friends’ siblings. The risk really starts to increase at 14, once they enter high school and have peers who are beginning to drive.
As tempting as it might be to let your teen be driven by another teen to events and social activities, it’s best for safety (and good parenting) to keep mom or dad’s taxi rolling for another year or two.

Do you have a teen who is almost ready to or does drive?

What’s your supervision strategy?

Related Content:

Texting-while-driving: Teens do because we do

The teen brain: Is it ready for adult accountability? Adult punishment?

By  |  01:22 PM ET, 10/15/2012

Tags:  Teens

 
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