How can we help our teens drive safely?



It probably comes as no surprise that traffic fatalities are the leading cause of death in drivers 16-20 years old. The magnitude of the problem is sobering. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2002, teen drivers were more than four times as likely as older drivers to crash, per mile driven. Sixteen-year-old drivers were 20 times as likely.

Although teen drivers represent only 10 percent of the total U.S. population, drivers 16-19 years old accounted for 14 percent of all traffic deaths. Teens driving with an adult fared satisfactorily, but the risks for an unsupervised teen driver increased with each teen passenger in the car. The economic cost of police-reported crashes (both fatal and non-fatal) involving drivers ages 15-20 was $40.8 billion in 2002.

Alcohol is a major factor in teen traffic fatalities, and non-use of seat belts goes hand in hand with drinking and driving. In 2002, 29 percent of teen traffic deaths involved a teen driver who was drinking, and 77 percent were not using seatbelts in these alcohol-related traffic deaths. Nearly half of these fatalities occurred between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

According to Gary Direnfeld, executive director of the “I Promise” program, which encourages parents and teens to enter into a safe driving contract, parents who want to reduce the risk of their child's involvement in a car accident should do the following:

· Limit the number of passengers your teen is allowed to transport. The risk of a car crash goes up exponentially with each passenger added.

· Tell your teen not to drink and drive, and lead by example. Teens are sensitive to hypocrisy and determine their behavior by what they observe in their parent, not by what the parent says.

· Insist that your teen and all car passengers wear seat belts. Parents must set the example by wearing seat belts, too.

· Check your car brakes and brake fluid. While teens are interested in how fast the car can go, parents should be interested in how well the car can stop. Make sure your vehicle is in top mechanical shape if your teen is taking the wheel.

· Do not allow your teen to drive after midnight. If transportation is required after midnight, make other arrangements. Call a taxi, car pool with another parent or act as chauffeur. It is better for a parent to lose a night’s sleep than the life of a child.

· Parents and teens are encouraged to participate in safe driving programs such as the “I Promise” program. This will encourage parents and teens to enter into a safe driving contract and will provide a means for mutual accountability. Parents of females should insist that the boys who drive their daughters become involved in the program.

· For information on creating a safe driving contract, visit the “I Promise” program Web site at www.ipromiseprogram.com. Another option is to create your own contract and agree on consequences with your teen driver.

Posted on 2 Jul 2004

Tom Lee
Family & Consumer Science Program Leader & Department Head, Financial Management Specialist

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