There are roughly 260 million vehicles in the United States. A public with lots of vehicles unfortunately has a lot of vehicle accidents. These collisions disproportionately injure and kill teenagers. In response to a dire situation, Congress established the third week of October as National Teen Driver Safety Week. This year it takes place October 18th – 24th.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 14 – 18 year olds in the US. Teenagers are only 14% of the US population, but account for 30% of the fatal accidents, according to the CDC. A 2007 study showed that teens are aware drunk driving greatly increases the chances of an accident, but that they are not aware of the dangers of distracted driving. Problem areas include speeding, a lack of seat belt use, texting, alcohol use, and distracting passengers. The NHTSA shows that every day, an average of seven teens are killed in vehicle accidents.
For National Teen Driver Safety Week, talk to your teen driver as you would another adult that you care about. Back up your talk with evidence from the NHTSA’s Parent Central or Traffic Safety Marketing websites or the CDC’s Motor Vehicle Safety page. Your teen might have a huffy attitude about learning anything from their parents but, despite their protests, many of them are listening. Lay out their driving rules with logical explanations, not as punishments, and most teens will agree that they could use more experience without the distractions of a half dozen friends in their car or their eyes on their cell phone. Use their seat belt EVERY time and while they shouldn’t have access to alcohol anyway, ask that they call you if impaired, rather than driving. On the flip side, be willing to hear their suggestions, even if that means letting them drive more for extra practice.
Spring for extra driver’s education classes. While most drivers in the US only take the minimum school program, a private instructor can offer more personalized seat time, focusing on weak areas. An online refresher course may be a good idea instead, as it is much cheaper and covers enough material to lower the learner’s insurance rates.
For a more subtle approach, show them episode 33 of the Discovery Channel’s MythBusters. Two of the hosts run an experiment on a closed track, comparing errors made while talking on a cell phone versus no cell phone but driving drunk. While embedded in amusement, the shocking results proved that distracted driving was far worse than drunk driving.
Although there are many other distractions while driving, the big one lately seems to be cell phones. An easy way around this is to activate Drive Mode or a similar setting. This feature uses GPS to detect movement and locks the phone above 25 mph. If your teen’s phone does not have this setting, Drive Mode is a free app or you can install a similar app like SafeDrive or Sprint’s DriveFirst.
Nothing will make your teen driver pay attention to the road more than making them want to do it. The SCCA hosts hundreds of autocross events around the country each month, where new drivers can push their skills in a safe learning environment. Autocross is cheap and fun and focuses on making the driver better, by actively paying attention to what they, and their vehicle, are doing at all times. It’s a great lesson to take back to the street.
While nothing can prevent all accidents, practice and an effort on reducing distractions can pay off. Communication is key with teenagers, and giving them all the information will probably be enough for them to make a lifelong commitment to safe driving.