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Car Talk: Teaching Teens about Safe Driving

By Beth Weinhouse

Car Talk
Watching a teenager get behind the wheel of a car for the first time can be a scary experience as a parent; you don't want to think about what might happen . . . but you have to. In fact, you have to do a lot more than that. You have to talk to your teens about safe driving habits.

Car crashes are the number one killer of teens. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 3,000 teenagers are killed in car crashes every year - that's about 8 young lives lost in motor vehicle accidents each day. And summer months bring the greatest risk. In 2010, the American Automobile Association (AAA) analyzed crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and found that 7 of the top 10 deadliest days for teen drivers occur between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration NHTSA, the risk factors that contribute to teen-related crashes include inexperience and immaturity, speeding, and distracted driving triggers like texting, loud music, and other teenage passengers.

While only time will take care of a teen driver's inexperience and immaturity, there's plenty of opportunity to educate teen drivers about avoiding risky behaviors. To increase the likelihood that the message will sink in, here are some tips on how to approach this important topic with your teen:

  • Start early. Speaking to your teen before they get their license is the best time to start, even better is talking about safety before they're behind the wheel at all. If you can, start talking about driving safety when your child is old enough to sit in the front seat with you and learn from your safe driving habits.
  • Narrate your drive. Use the times when you're driving with your teen as a passenger to impart safety lessons with a technique called "narrative driving." Point out other drivers' unsafe practices (not signaling a turn, for instance) or hazards in the road. Talking out loud about what you're seeing and doing shows your teen there's a lot more going on in the driver's seat than they may have realized.
  • Set a good example. Research shows that two-thirds of teens believe their parents follow different rules behind the wheel than they do. And studies show that teens mirror parents' driving habits; in a survey of 1,700 teens, 90 percent reported observing their parents speed, talk on cell while driving. So don't just talk about safe driving, show them through example.
The bottom line: Teens whose parents talk with them about driving safety are less likely to crash. Effective parent-teen communication is critical to helping teens recognize and choose safe driving behaviors. A Parent/Teen Driving Contract can be both a conversation-starter about teen driving safety issues, as well as a customized agreement that lets you create and uphold family driving rules.

But no matter how you choose to discuss safe driving with your teen, this is one conversation that, no matter how difficult, can save lives.

May 22, 2013, 8:42 AM

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