Watch Out! New Driver on the Road!

teen driver

Watch Out! New Driver on the Road!

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Sometimes I am amazed at how distracted I can be while driving. Just last week, I asked myself a series of “have you ever” questions:

  • Have you ever arrived at your destination without really paying attention to how you got there because it’s so routine?
  • Have you ever picked up your phone while you are driving, if only to check the time?
  • Have you ever looked down at the radio while changing stations?
  • Have you ever read billboards fully while driving?
  • Have you ever been so involved in a conversation on the phone that you forgot to make your turn?
  • Have you ever turned around to look in the back seat at your child talking or sleeping?
  • Have you ever reached for something in the back seat while driving?
  • Have you ever looked in the mirror to groom yourself for a second while driving?

Enough said. This list could go on and on, but the fact is, I answered yes to all the above. (I’m guessing some of you did too?). I’m not proud, but these are small things that we do as drivers that could end in disaster. I’ve learned through the past year that all I should focus on while I’m driving is… driving. I can’t say I’m perfect, but I’ve come a long way from the distracted driver I once was.

So, to practice what I preach, here are some statistics from Distraction.gov to prove why distracted driving is so dangerous:

  • Research indicates that the burden of talking on a cell phone – even if it’s hands-free – saps the brain of 39% of the energy it would ordinarily devote to safe driving.
  • Our youngest and most inexperienced drivers are most at risk, with 16% of all distracted driving crashes involving drivers under 20. But they are not alone. At any given moment during daylight hours, over 800,000 vehicles are being driven by someone using a hand-held cell phone or driving distracted.
  • Using a cell phone while driving – whether it’s hand-held or hands-free delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent.

Half of all teens will be involved in a car crash before graduating from high school. Parental involvement doesn’t end when a child gets a license. Teen drivers who continue to practice with their parents increase their chances of avoiding a crash. The  Governors Highway Safety Association offers more information.

Visit DriveitHOME for a variety of helpful resources to help your teen get the experience they need behind the wheel.

No state has laws strong enough to fully protect new teen drivers. Household rules about passengers, nighttime driving and cell phone use can fill gaps in state laws. The New Driver Deal outlines these rules.

Teens Crash Because They Are Inexperienced Drivers

Contrary to popular belief, teens crash most often because they are inexperienced. They struggle with judging gaps in traffic, driving the right speed for conditions and turning safely, among other things.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sponsors Teen Driver Safety Week each year in October. Parents are the biggest influencers on their teen drivers, even if you think they aren’t listening.

NHTSA reminds parents to set the rules before they hit the road with “5 to Drive”:

  • No cell phones while driving
  • No extra passengers
  • No speeding
  • No alcohol
  • No driving or riding without a seat belt

Car Crashes are the Number One Killer of Teens

The first year of licensed driving is an exciting and dangerous time in your teen’s life, But the facts are hard to hear.

Car crashes are the number one killer of teens and impact people of all ages. In 2016, the number of people who died in crashes involving at least one young driver totaled 4,853.

As parents, we want to keep our teens safe, and we can if we understand the risks they face such as inexperience, night driving and passengers. Help them beat the odds by staying involved as they gain experience over that first year and transition from new to experienced driver.

How to Get Started

Here are some easy things you can do to get your teen on the path to safer driving:

  • Sign the New Driver Deal, an agreement between you and your teen about the rules and expectations when they get behind the wheel
  • Use the Pointers for Parents for tips and lessons you can practice with your teen
  • Spend 30 minutes a week driving with your teen even after they get their license

Inexperience is the Leading Cause of Teen Crashes

Teens are only human. Like the rest of us, when we’re learning to do something, we’re bound to make common errors. Teens are no different when it comes to driving. The old cliché “practice makes perfect” may seem corny, but it’s true.

The safest — and best — way for them to gain experience is to practice with you riding along with them frequently, monitoring their progress. Just 30 minutes a week with you as a passenger in the car can make a big difference.

Many states require a minimum number of practice hours before a novice driver can get their license. Whether required by state law or not, the safest way for your teen to continue to build driving experience and skills is for you to ride with them as they practice for a full year after they get their license. If you’re stumped on how to go about that task, don’t fret. Pointers for Parents has lots of tips and practice guides for you and your teen.

Remember, it’s not whether our teens are “good kids” or “responsible” behind the wheel. They are new drivers. What matters most is their lack of experience. Regardless of behavior, their grades or other achievements, all teens are inexperienced and subject to the same risks.

In April 2011, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute identified the most common errors that lead to crashes involving teen drivers. Three out of four serious teen driver crashes are due to inexperience. The three most common errors, accounting for about half of these crashes, are:

  1. Lack of scanning the roadway
  2. Driving too fast for conditions
  3. Distraction by something inside or outside the vehicle

Make sure your teen has lots of practice behind the wheel – the more, the better. Start off driving during the daytime, but don’t cherry pick. Your teen won’t always be driving on a prefect sunny day. When you feel they’re ready, gradually add practice at night, in heavier traffic and bad weather.

Reducing Your Teen’s Risk

Staying involved helps keep new drivers safe.

While we as parents face the same risks each time we drive, we have experience where our teens do not. Our experience has taught us how to recognize and avoid these risks.

Trusted pediatricians feel very strongly about teen driver safety. Dr. Alison Tothy, MD, FAAP, Medical Director of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at the University of Chicago Children’s Hospital, offers ways you can help keep your teen driver safe.

Experts advise taking the following actions to help keep your teen safe behind the wheel:

Practice with new drivers: Sit beside them as they drive and schedule 30 minutes of practice time each week—before and after they get their license—to check in and see how they are doing.

Set a good example: Drive the way you want your teen to drive. Your sons and daughters have learned from you all their lives. They don’t stop learning now that they have their license.

Sign the New Driver Deal: The New Driver Deal is a written agreement which helps define expectations – for parents and teens.

Let teens earn privileges: The best way teens can show they are ready for new privileges is to show they can handle the ones they have been already given.

Parents should discuss their feelings about teen driver safety with each other: It can be tough enforcing rules with your teen when the parents of their friends don’t follow suit. It also can be dangerous for your teen to be a passenger in a car driven by a teen given too many driving privileges too soon. Make sure you know where other parents stand on teen driver safety and tell other parents about your feelings.

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