Program Manager, National Safety Council
Students across the country are wrapping up another school year and, for many, this will be many teen drivers’ first summer behind the wheel.
It’s an exciting time, but also a potentially dangerous one as car crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens. Communicating the risks on the roadways to the teen drivers in your life and setting expectations in advance can go a long way toward ensuring they stay safe when driving.
Make sure your teen driver is prepared for these five big roadway risks:
1. Extra passengers
For teens, summer can be filled with date nights, movie outings, and other group activities. But before letting your teen chauffeur a significant other, friend, or sibling, remember this: The number of teen passengers that can safely ride with a new driver is zero.
Research shows a single teen passenger increases a teen driver’s crash risk by 44 percent. Peer passengers are a distraction new drivers don’t have the experience to manage. For the first six months after teens get their license, they shouldn’t have any young passengers. Likewise, teens shouldn’t be a passenger with a new teen driver. If they can hold off for at least a year, they will be much safer.
2. Night driving
Driving at night presents challenges for all drivers, but especially for teen drivers. Road hazards and surroundings are harder to see — even familiar surroundings look different — and fatigue can set in. In fact, almost 18 percent of crashes involving drivers age 15-19 occur between 9 p.m. and midnight.
To make sure teens are prepared for night driving:
- Have them practice with an adult in the car
- Gradually extend hours they are allowed to keep the car out as they gain experience over their first year on the road
- Always make sure teens are well rested before hitting the road
Many states have laws that set limits on when a teen can drive alone. Check your state’s laws here.
3. Impaired driving
Driving while impaired is never a good idea, especially for inexperienced drivers. While your teen is out celebrating this summer, make sure they make safe decisions about getting from Point A to Point B, no matter what the circumstance.
Drugs — including legal prescription drugs — alcohol, and lack of sleep all contribute to impairment. The safest strategy for every driver is to avoid any substance or behavior that leads to impaired driving.
Teach teens to get in the habit of reading labels on over-the-counter medications and to pay attention to any warnings about drowsiness or impairment if they plan to operate a vehicle. For prescription drugs, speak with your physician or pharmacist about any side effects a medication might cause.
4. Unexpected breakdowns
Being a responsible driver means being prepared for the unexpected, and that includes breakdowns.
A car emergency kit should include a properly inflated spare tire, wheel wrench, tripod jack, jumper cables, tool kit, compass, duct tape, cellphone charger, flashlight with extra batteries, rain poncho, fire extinguisher, reflective triangles and vest, first aid kit, enough nonperishable food and water for three days, and cold-weather items like a snow brush.
Make sure your teen knows how to use these items — practice changing a flat tire and teach them how to use a compass. It can be nerve-racking to be stranded on the road, but having these supplies and knowing how to use them will go a long way toward keeping teens calm.
5. Communication shortcomings
Communication is one of the most important factors to keeping teen drivers safe. Before your teen heads out the door, ask: Who’s driving? Where are you going? When will you be on the road? How long has the driver had his or her license? Will you be driving at night?
Communicate clearly that they must never use a cell phone when driving.
You can put these expectations in writing. The New Driver Deal is a great way to help ensure teens understand and follow safe-driver rules, and it will help adults sort out questions and issues that arise when teens get behind the wheel.
Meant to be flexible, the New Driver Deal document can be updated as your teen gains experience and is ready for more responsibility. Conversely, if your teen isn’t following the rules, you can tighten some restrictions.
The first year of licensed driving can be a dangerous time in your teen’s life, but you can help keep them safe by understanding the risks they face. Help them beat the odds by staying involved.
Morgan Cihak, Program Manager, National Safety Council, [email protected]