It’s a wonder anyone ever learns to drive. Sitting next to your teenaged daughter on her first outing behind the wheel is scary enough, but handing her the keys to head off on her own once she has earned her license is even scarier. To make matters worse, statistics show that the first year behind the wheel is the most dangerous—and can even be deadly—for teen drivers. So, how do you let go? First, educate yourself and your teen about what the risks are and how to avoid them.
Understanding the Risks for Teen Drivers
Car crashes are the number one killer of teenagers in the United States. More kids under the age of 20 are killed in car crashes than by suicide and homicide combined. This frightening statistic may make you want to force your teen to take a bus and avoid driving altogether, but with your guidance and an awareness of the risks, you can keep your teen, and others on the road, safe. The main risks teen drivers face includes the following:
- Inexperience. No matter how responsible your teen is, when something unexpected occurs out on the road, her lack of experience will inevitably put her at risk. The only way to gain experience is to drive as much as possible with a parent supervising, even after getting a license.
- Distractions. Driver education programs definitely send the message not to use a cell phone for any purpose while driving, but teens may not be aware of other distractions, like loud music, eating, reaching for things inside the car, and applying make-up. Make sure your teen is aware of all possible distractions, not just her cell phone.
- Passengers. The biggest and most dangerous distractions of all for teen drivers are passengers in the car. In fact, even a single passenger increases a teen’s risk of crashing by 44 percent. With each additional passenger, the risk increases. Driving solo until she has more experience and maturity is the safest choice for your new driver.
- Speed. For most inexperienced drivers, even driving the speed limit may be faster than they can handle. Being unaware of the effect of weather conditions, knowing how to adjust speed to stay with traffic, and taking sharp turns all require more experience than new drivers have. Teach your teen that slower is always better.
- Seat Belts. Believe it or not, teens are the age group least likely to wear a seat belt when driving. Despite having just completed driver’s education, many teens choose not to wear a seat belt and, not surprisingly, most of the teens killed in car crashes every year were not wearing seat belts. Make sure your teen understands the consequences of not wearing a seat belt—both as a risk to her life and a risk of losing driving privileges.
- Night Driving. As experienced drivers, we take for granted the hazards of driving in the dark. Teen drivers simply do not have the experience to handle night driving when they first get their licenses. In fact, teens are three times as likely to crash at night than during the day. Add to that the risk of fatigued driving, and it makes sense that you should continue to drive with your teen at night until she has more hours under her belt.
- Impaired Driving. Obviously, driving after drinking alcohol is not only risky but illegal. Still, too many teens do it. It’s important to let your teen know her safety is more important to you than the fact that she has been drinking and that she can call for a safe ride home under any circumstance. Teens also need to be aware that medications and fatigue can also impair the ability to drive safely and should avoid driving when they feel groggy or tired.
As your teen gets accustomed to driving on her own, she will need to be reminded of these risks. Riding along with your teen once a week or so is a good way to check in and see which bad driving habits she is falling into.
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