Your teen is ready to hit the road. Naturally, this can cause your anxiety levels to rise. This MasterKit will arm you with resources to help keep your teen safe in the face of common distractions and other drivers. You’ll learn high-risk situations new drivers should avoid, habits to promote safer driving, and cost-saving tips for insuring a teen driver.
How to Reduce Car Accident Risk for Teenager Drivers
Statistics prove that teens who follow these strategies drive more safely. But they often need their parents to lead the way.
There are some scary statistics out there involving teenagers and driving. But there is also good news to report: Crashes involving 16- and 17-year-olds have decreased over the past 15 years.1 According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, deadly crashes involving teens ages 13 to 19 have gone down69 percent between 1975 and 2015.1 That's probably a little reassuring to parents of teenagers about to get behind the wheel.
So what makes a difference in preventing many of these crashes involving teens? Often it comes down to parents following these proven strategies.
1. Enroll Your Teen in a Professional Driving School
It's great to give your teenager driving tips based on your years of experience - and to let them get practice by driving you around town. But few parents can match the extensive, structured education that a professional driving school offers.
Aside from teaching the basic rules of the road, these schools also teach kids how to drive defensively. A professional school can educate your teen about the risks they face and give them practice hours driving on the highway. Plus, driving school can be fun because they will be learning while surrounded by their peers.
Pro Tip: Before you sign up for a driving school, check out its score and whether any complaints have been filed against it on the Better Business Bureau website.
2. Set a Good Example
On the first day of professional driving school, some schools require that parents attend so they can learn how to drive by example. This can be very revealing to adults as they realize they've been practicing unsafe driving habits for years while their kids were watching.
If this applies to you, you're not alone. The statistics about parents' unsafe driving habits are overwhelming. A 2012 study by Liberty Mutual found that 91 percent of parents have talked on a cell phone while driving, and 59 percent have sent a text. Twenty percent of parents even admitted to have driven under the influence of alcohol, 49 percent have driven without wearing a seatbelt, and more than 88 percent drive over the speed limit.2
It's important to take your driving seriously and know it’s never too late to improve your habits. If your teenager sees you taking safety to heart, most likely they will too.
3. Follow the Graduated Driver's Licensing Law for Your State
To combat the risk of teen motor vehicle accidents, states implemented Graduated Driver's Licensing (GDL) in the 1990s. The goal is to limit teen drivers' exposure to risk by gradually allowing new driving privileges once they have more experience.
The rules vary by state, but for example, during the initial six months after a teen gets their license, they may not be allowed to drive with passengers in their car. Washington, D.C. and 38 U.S. states also ban all teens from using cell phones while driving. And all states except Vermont restrict nighttime driving hours.3
The statistics show that Graduated Driver's Licenses work. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety compared crash statistics before and after GDL, and found that GDL has significantly reduced the number of 16- and 17-year-olds involved in crashes.1
Your teen needs to know the perils of drinking and driving. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of high school teens who drank and drove in 2012 was 54 percent lower than it was in 1991. Yet one in 10 high school teens still drinks and drives. And drivers ages 16 to 20 are 17 times more likely to die in a crash if they have a blood alcohol level of .08 than those who haven't been drinking.4
Your teen needs to understand that it can be deadly for themselves and everyone on the road if they chooses to drink any alcohol and get behind the wheel. Set out the explicit rules and consequences if your teen is caught drinking and driving, including jail time, DUI school, and losing his or her driver's license. And as you talk to them about dealing with peer pressure surrounding drinking, be sure to discuss how to handle a friend who has been drinking and wants to drive. Let them know they can always call you for a ride in any circumstance.
5. Talk About Driving While Drowsy
Drinking and driving isn't the only thing you need to discuss with your teen. Being sleepy can impair their judgment, vision, hand-eye coordination and reaction times as much as alcohol and drugs.5 A study by AAA and the National Sleep Foundation found that individuals (regardless of age) who've slept two hours or less within 24 hours shouldn't be driving at all, and four or five hours of sleep in 24 hours will still leave drivers "substantially impaired."6
Is your teen at risk of driving while drowsy? It's quite possible. A survey from Liberty Mutual and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) found that one third of teens are driving drowsy.7 The National Sleep Foundation also says that more than half of fall-asleep crashes involve drivers under the age of 25.8
According to the National Sleep Foundation,1 the key signs to talk to your teen about drowsy driving include:
They're having trouble focusing or keeping their eyes open.
They keep yawning or rubbing their eyes.
The have wandering thoughts or daydreams.
They notice a slower reaction time.
They're drifting from their lane, tailgating, or missing signs or exits.
They have to turn up the radio or roll down the window to stay focused.
If your teen notices any of these while driving, they should get off the road and take a power nap, drink some caffeine (although they shouldn't rely on caffeine for too long), or let someone else drive for a while.
6. Eliminate Their Distractions
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, distracted driving accounted for 58 percent of 1,700 teen crashes studied.9 Even if your teen says they won't drive distracted, you need to assume they will. Liberty Mutual and SADD found this absolutely was the case - 90 percent of teens surveyed admitted they have talked on a cell phone while driving, and 78 percent have sent a text.8
But it's not just cell phones that are the problem. Friends in the car, music, and just looking at something in the car were the main culprits in AAA's research, accounting for 37 percent of crashes caused by distracted driving.9
The good news is that there is technology available to help you eliminate some of these distractions and change your teen's driving behaviors. Numerous apps can be downloaded to your teen's cellphone to help prevent texting while driving. Cellcontrol for instance, lets you put limits on what your teen is and is not able to do on their phone while the car is moving. You can also customize the app for "passenger-zone," meaning it will only work in the passenger areas of the vehicle. As soon as you put your phone back into the driver's seat zone, it starts blocking texts once again.
7. Set Firm Ground Rules with a Teen Driving Contract
Almost half of teens surveyed by Liberty Mutual and SADD said their family has strict driving rules in place, but just nine percent have a formal driving agreement.8 To help families, they created a Teen Driving Contract that you can download and use to clearly document what you expect from your teen when they're driving.
Spell out the rules you expect of them (no cell phones, always wear a seatbelt, never exceed the speed limit, no drinking and driving) and establish consequences for breaking them. But the contact runs both ways so it's important for you to set a good example, too. The Liberty Mutual and SADD survey found that many parents forget this part of their job - 41 percent of teens said their parents behaved badly behind the wheel, even after their teens asked them to stop.9
Bottom line: According to that survey, 89 percent of teens said that having their parents view them as responsible is important to them. So use the Teen Driving Contract to spell out clearly what "responsible" means when your teen gets behind the wheel.
Pro Tip: One of the most effective things to include in your contract is that your teen will be responsible for any fines or tickets they get for breaking driving laws. Liberty Mutual's research shows that teens rank paying for fines and tickets with their own money as one of the biggest influences on their driving behavior.
Becoming a responsible driver takes a lot of practice on your teen's part, but it also takes support and instruction from you, too. With these strategies, parents can play an important role in helping their teens stay safe on the road.