National Teen Driver Safety Week is the third week of October and offers a great opportunity for parents to start and hopefully, continue having conversations with their teens about the importance of driving safely. Whether teens are driving a car, truck, or SUV, the rules stay the same, and they shouldn’t have the keys if they don’t know them. The greatest dangers for teen drivers are alcohol consumption, inconsistent or no seat belt use, distracted and drowsy driving, speeding, and driving with passengers in the vehicle. Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death for teens 15-to-18 years old in the U.S. and in Texas.
Parents can be the biggest influencers on teens’ choices behind the wheel if they take the time to talk with their teens about some of the biggest driving risks, including:
• Alcohol and Drugs: All teens are too young to legally buy, possess, or consume alcohol. However, nationally, in 2016, nearly one out of five teen drivers of passenger vehicles involved in a fatal crash had been drinking. But alcohol isn’t the only substance that can keep your teen from driving safely: In 2016, 6.5 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 17 were current users of marijuana. Like many other drugs, marijuana affects a driver’s ability to react to their surroundings. Driving is a complex task, and marijuana slows reaction times, affecting the driver’s ability to drive safely. Remind your teen that driving under the influence of any impairing substance - including illicit, prescription drugs, or over-the-counter medication - could have deadly consequences. It is critical that teen drivers understand why they shouldn’t drive impaired, that they know that they will lose their license if they are caught driving impaired, and that they will face additional consequences for breaking the rules they agreed to follow when they started driving.
• Seat Belts: Wearing a seat belt is one of the simplest ways for teens to stay safe in a vehicle. Yet too many teens aren’t buckling up. In fact, there were 569 passengers killed in passenger vehicles driven by teen drivers, and more than half (54%) of those passengers who died were NOT buckled up at the time of the fatal crash. Even more troubling, in 85 percent of cases when the teen driver was unbuckled, the passengers were also unbuckled.
• Distracted Driving: Distractions while driving are more than just risky — they can be deadly. In 2016, among teen drivers involved in fatal crashes, 10 percent were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. This age group (ages 15-18) also has the largest percentage of drivers who were distracted at the time of a crash. The biggest distraction for teens is other teens in the vehicle.
• Speeding: In 2016, almost one-third (31%) of all teen drivers of passenger vehicles involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash, and males were more likely to be involved in fatal speeding-related crashes than females.
• Passengers: Teen drivers transporting passengers can lead to disastrous consequences. Research shows that the risk of a fatal crash goes up dramatically in direct relation to the number of passengers in a car. The likelihood of teen drivers engaging in risky behavior triples when traveling with multiple passengers. Just one teen passenger can increase a teen driver's crash risk by 44 percent.
• Drowsy Driving: Teens are busier than ever: studying, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and spending time with friends are among the long list of things they do to fill their time. However, with these activities, teens tend to compromise something very important — sleep. This is a dangerous habit that can lead to drowsy driving. Even after 7-8 hours of quality sleep, people are most likely to feel drowsy between the hours of 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., which is generally when teens are driving home.
What's the solution? Talk regularly to your teen about the dangers of driving. Parents – you’ve guided your teen this far. Driving is a new chapter and a step toward independence for many teens. But your job is not done. Self-reported surveys show that teens with parents who set and enforce firm rules for driving typically engage in less risky driving behaviors and are involved in fewer crashes. But your kids can’t listen to you if you don’t talk to them.
Remember, one of the most important safety features for your teen driver is YOU! Know the Graduated Driver License Law and be familiar with the restrictions placed on your teen's license — it can better assist you to enforce those laws.
Parents remember even if it seems like they’re tuning you out, keep reinforcing these rules. They’re listening—your constant reminders about these powerful messages will get through.