Helping Teens Stay Safe on the Road: Tips for Teens and Parents
In the life of a teenager, getting a driver’s license is a milestone moment.
A driver’s license is a symbol of freedom for the teen and usually without hesitation; they are ready to hit the road and go.
Unfortunately, for too many teens, driving can be deadly.
Motor vehicle accidents are the leading causes of death for teens in the United States.
Thousands of teenagers die each year, leaving countless families and friends dealing with devastation and unimaginable heartache.
At South Shore Hospital, motor vehicle accidents are the second most common mechanism of injury that we see in the Trauma Program.
One of the goals of the Trauma Program is to see fewer motor vehicle accidents involving teens by promoting the importance of safe, responsible driving.
Show your teen how to drive safely
Teaching safe driving habits goes beyond showing your teen how to adjust the rearview mirror or how to turn on the windshield wipers.
Parents need to be models of good, safe driving behavior for their teens.
Think about the way you drive: would you want your teenager to drive the exact same way? If not, it is time to adjust your own driving habits to be a good example for your teen.
Formal driver’s education classes are extremely important, but the reinforcement that your teens receive at home (even before their driving years) will be what shapes their future driving behaviors most.
Discuss the danger zones
Prior to hitting the road, it is important for your teen to be familiar with the leading causes of teen motor vehicle accidents and injuries.
According to the CDC, the leading causes of motor vehicle accidents involving teens are:
- Driver inexperience
- Driving with teen passengers
- Nighttime driving
- Not using seat belts
- Distracted driving
- Drowsy driving
- Reckless driving
- Impaired driving
Reminding your teens frequently of these hazards will go a long way toward keeping your teen safe on the road.
One way of addressing these dangers is through a “parent-teen driving contract.”
This contract is a written agreement between you and your teenager that states what’s expected of your teen when he or she is behind the wheel. Many parents make agreeing to a driving contract a condition of being able to use the family car.
Include language in your contract that addresses some of the hazards above, like “I will never text and drive” and “I will always wear my seatbelt.”
While you can’t control what your teens do when they’re out of sight, a contract can help keep these dangers top of mind for your teen, making him or her more aware on the road.
AAA Northeast and the CDC offer resources for teen parents to prepare and encourage safe driving habits, including a sample of a parent-teen driving contract.
Know (and enforce) the rules
While it’s true that a driver’s license offers a teen a sense of freedom, it’s also true that the freedom is limited: all 50 states have some form of Junior Operator Law (JOL), also known as Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws.
These laws place restrictions on teen driving, with the goal of teens becoming more familiar with driving and getting more comfortable behind the wheel before they graduate to full-privilege driving.
The laws will vary from state to state. In Massachusetts, for example, the GDL law states that teens can’t drive from 12:30 AM – 5 AM and can’t drive with passengers under the age of 18 for the first six months, among other things.
It is important to make sure that your teens follow these laws by including them in their driving contract.
These laws are in place to remove distractions and to help your child gradually adjust to life behind the wheel.
Educate your teen on the basics
While your teen will learn the tips below in his or her driver’s education class, it is important for you to reinforce them at home as well.
Safety basics for teen drivers include:
- Always wear your seat belt. No excuses.
- Obey the speed limit. Going too fast gives you less time to react, putting yourself and others at risk.
- Use your turn signals. Proper signaling helps other drivers know what you are doing, preventing accidents.
- Don't drink and drive. Drinking under the age of 21 is illegal, and no drivers should ever operate a vehicle under the influence.
- Focus on your driving. Eliminate anything that distracts you from keeping your eyes on the road and on the conditions around you.
- Don't use your cell phone while driving. Even hands-free cell phone use can be an unwelcome distraction for teen drivers.
- Don't eat or drink while driving. It’s impossible to focus 100% on the road when you’re also thinking about the food or drink in your hand.
- Plan ahead. Know where you are going and ensure that you have enough gas to get there.
- Leave early. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. Rushing will lead to speeding.
For parents, it can be easy to focus on helping your teen get his or her license and then get through those first couple of weeks on the road.
However, it’s important to remain involved with your new driver.
When your teen gets home, ask how the drive went or if there were any troubles. Enforce a curfew, and ensure that your teen isn’t violating any GDL laws.
Additionally, while one of the benefits of having a teen driver is the fact that mom and dad no longer have to play chauffeur, consider taking a ride with your teen every so often.
This can be a good way to make sure your teen hasn’t developed any bad driving habits, and can help ease your mind when you see that he or she is following your example and driving safely.
Injury prevention is a critical piece of the South Shore Health Trauma Program as part of our effort to keep you and your family safe.
We hope you have frequent conversations with the teenage drivers in your life reinforcing safety.
Never forget that last reminder to adhere to the parent-teen driving contract as they head out the door! This little statement can really make a big difference.