Tips to make your teen's 'ride' safer

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:56

    A set of wheels is every teen’s dream, but while your child is enjoying an exciting rite of passage, you’re probably suffering through a rough patch of anxiety and worry. Parents have a right to be concerned. Traffic accidents are the number one killer of American teenagers (representing 39% of all teenage deaths), and teens have the highest crash risk of any age group (about four times higher than older drivers). Why? Inexperience and immaturity make young drivers far more likely to overestimate their driving ability, while underestimating the dangers on the road n making them more likely to speed, tailgate, pass inappropriately, not wear their safety belts, and succumb to peer pressure. The ‘Take the Pledge’ safe driving campaign wants parents to know there ARE practical ways to help make your teen’s ‘ride’ considerably safer. 1) Don’t assume driver education equals a safe, capable driver Major studies reveal that high school driver education programs show little or no effect in reducing crashes. While it’s safe to assume they help with basic driving skills and rules of the road, most are too short, offering too little behind-the-wheel hours of experience. 2) Combine driver ed with a parent-supervised practice Research shows that when parents take an active role in their teen’s driving education, their child’s chances of being in a crash can be reduced by one-third. So invest the time, and take an active, extended role in helping your teenager learn to drive. A crucial part of being a “driving instructor” is setting a good example: Teens with crashes and traffic violations often have parents with bad driving records. 3) Know and enforce your state’s graduated licensing laws In the mid-90s, most states enacted graduated licensing laws that delay full privileges until beginners are older and more experienced. Most states have core requirements such as no night driving after 9 p.m or 10 pm, zero alcohol tolerance, and/or rules preventing more than one young passenger with a beginning driver. Educate yourself on your state’s rules and enforce them as family rules. 4) Restrict or ban night/weekend driving The rate of fatal nighttime vehicle crashes is six times higher for teenage boys and three times higher for teen girls versus their adult (30- to 59-year-old) counterparts. So set a household rule, or simply enforce your state’s graduated licensing laws re: night driving. Also consider restricting weekend driving, given that last year 54% of all teen deaths occurred on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. 5) Restrict or ban letting kids drive around with friends Nearly half of the crash deaths involving 16-year-olds took place when beginners were driving with fellow teen passengers (while 59% of teen passenger deaths occurred in vehicles driven by another teen). And the crash risk rises incrementally with one, two, or three or more additional passengers. Many states’ licensing laws restrict beginners driving with other teen riders; but even if your state doesn’t, you should lay down your own rules to limit social driving. 6) Restrict or ban teen cell phone use while driving Eight percent of all young drivers used a hand-held cell phone driving during the day last year, compared to 5% in 2002, and 3% in 2000. This is a disturbing trend, given that drivers using phones are four times as likely to get into injury crashes n and the consequences are more extreme for young drivers. Make the message loud and clear: No driving and talking. 7) When choosing a car for a teen, invest in safety features Roughly 90% of parents pass down a family vehicle, or purchase a used vehicle, for their teens. When choosing a vehicle, safety n and safety features n should be the top priority. Thankfully, most vehicles less than a decade old have air bags, although they were added to cars before trucks, so be sure to consult the owner’s manual, or steering wheel or dash panel for markings like “SRS,” “SIR” or “SRS/Airbags.” Also look for anti-lock brakes (ABS), which help young drivers maintain control during hard stops. 8) Choose a car with a sedate, not sporty, image Kids obviously prefer cool, sporty cars, but it’s been shown that sports cars, muscle cars or vehicles with a high-performance image encourage reckless driving and speeding. A basic family sedan can reduce the chance that your teen will be involved in a crash. 9) Draw up and display a teen-parent driver contract A written pact creates an opportunity for your family to discuss, understand, and sign off on clear, ironclad safety rules with your child-including enforced seat belt use, a zero alcohol tolerance policy, and rules for driving with friends, night driving, speeding, etc. The written nature of the driving privileges contract makes it memorable; and if parents sign off on the same rules, kids will be more likely to respect the pact. For comprehensive safe driving tips and articles, visit the “Take the Pledge to Slow Down” page at