The most dangerous six months in a driving lifetime are the first six months of a new teen driver. Teens are 10 times more likely to crash in their first year behind the wheel. The primary reasons are lack of driving skills and lack of driving experience, especially in reacting to emergencies.
Know the risks
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have outlined many of the problems teen drivers face. Teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate or fail to recognize dangerous situations. Additionally, they’re more likely to make critical decision errors that lead to serious crashes. They are more likely to drive too fast for road conditions, tailgate more and not look ahead for changing conditions like red lights and curves.
They are more often distracted, especially by cell phones when driving alone and by other teen passengers, which often means more risk taking, especially among males. Their sense of invulnerability leads to lower rates of seatbelt usage. Much of the risky behavior occurs at night, especially weekend nights. Lower visibility, driver fatigue, lack of hazardous or emergency situation driving skills and real or imagined peer pressures combine for much greater chances of a serious crash.
Know the solutions
First, recognize that all teenagers start out as inexperienced drivers. Parents need to ensure that they receive as much training and time behind the wheel with a responsible adult as possible. If your teenager’s school has driver education, make sure they are signed up for the course. If you can afford professional driver training, invest in building good driving skills for your child. Spend time teaching driving skills to your teen. Commit to driving with them in every driving condition — during night time, in busy downtown areas, on freeways and rural roads, during bad weather and in congested commute times. All the conditions they will soon encounter without you.
Think of all the bad driving and emergency situations you have encountered and make sure you tell them how to react. Have frank conversations with them about the impacts of impaired driving. Even though teenagers are unable to legally drink or use drugs, impaired driving is a factor in a quarter of all teen driver crashes.
Make sure you are setting a good example by following all the rules of the road. If you don’t display good behavior, it will be harder to teach them. Set rules for their driving privilege and keep repeating them: no groups of friends in the car without an adult, everybody is buckled up and follow all the traffic laws.
Help is out there. Visit the California Office of Traffic Safety at ots.ca.gov and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at nhtsa.gov/road-safety/teen-driving for useful resources to help parents and teen drivers.