Safe Driving for Your Adolescent

Learning to drive is a major rite of passage for adolescents – and their moms and dads. It's a time of exciting possibilities and achievements. It's also a time of high risk. Driving is fatal for almost 50,000 Americans every year.

Young people between the ages of 16 and 25 have the highest rate of auto-related deaths, even though individuals in this age group may be bright, skilled, and have great reflexes. A collision is the most likely tragedy to kill or cripple an adolescent.

Distractions are a problem for everyone, including adolescents. Using cell phones for talking, texting, email, or other Internet use is a proven cause of accidents – and must be strictly avoided. Vehicles have many important safety features (e.g., seat belts, shoulder straps, headrests, air bags, padded dashes, safety glass, collapsible steering columns, anti-lock brakes, etc.), but even with safety equipment, reckless driving is still a real danger to adolescents.

All new drivers should take a driver's education course. These courses have been proven to reduce accidents, but they are not enough. Adolescents often believe that serious accidents will not happen to them; however, these young people can take steps to change the odds in their favor.

Adolescent-related driving deaths frequently occur in the following situations:
  • With recreational driving. For the first 3 to 6 months after getting a license, new drivers should try to get experience driving to school and work, not for fun.
  • When not buckled-up. Use safety gear.
  • When drowsy. Anyone who is sleepy should stop driving until fully alert. Sleepiness may cause even more accidents than alcohol.
  • When driving with friends. Adolescents are safer driving by themselves or with family. They should drive as much as possible with an experienced driver who can help develop good driving habits. As tempting as it may be, new drivers should wait until they have a consistent, safe driving record before taking friends as passengers. Friends, to the new driver, are a big distraction and liability – and this liability often extends to the parent.
  • When distracted. Using cell phones for any reason, eating, drinking, or putting on makeup while driving is dangerous for all drivers.
  • After the use of marijuana or any other illegal drug or any prescription drug that is sedating. Drugs can be just as dangerous as alcohol.
  • After drinking alcohol. Drinking slows reflexes and impairs judgment. These effects happen to anyone who drinks. So, NEVER drink and drive. ALWAYS find someone to drive who has not been drinking -- even if this means making an uncomfortable phone call.
  • After dark. Automatic reflexes and driving skills are just developing during the first months of driving. Darkness is an extra variable to cope with.

Moms and dads should discuss "driving rules" with their adolescents and help their new drivers stick to them. An excellent method to stimulate discussions and set expectations is to draft a "driving contract." This contract should list the rules and consequences of breaking the “driving rules.” Be sure to state in the contract that the mother or father has the final say. Consider all of the issues above when drafting the contract.

Moms and dads should encourage their adolescents to call “without consequence” rather than get in a car with a driver who has been drinking. If parents discover that their son or daughter has been driving and drinking, they should ask the State to suspend that adolescent’s license until age 18. In many states, the mother or father must sign for an adolescent under 18 to get a driver's license. At any time before the 18th birthday, the parent can refuse responsibility, and the State will take the license.

These suggestions are not intended to be a punishment for your teenager, but to prevent accidents, life-long disability and death. Your child is worth far more than the inconvenience and hassle and a driving contract. Your teenage can set an example for his or her peers on how to drive responsibly. And he or she might even save a life!


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