The Most Dangerous Year
The year our teens get their driver's license are among the most exciting - and dangerous - years of their life.
The sense of freedom they get from being behind the wheel is undeniable. But there is no doubt more teens die in car crashes than from any other cause. More than from suicide and homicide combined. It is a national crisis. More than 12 young people (ages 15 - 19) die in teen crashes each day!
As their parents, we want to keep them safe. And we can. If we understand the risks teenagers face - we can help them beat the odds. How? Mostly by staying involved as they gain experience over that first year after they get their license to drive alone.
Drive it Home is a resource all parents can refer to, and contribute to, to share proven and effective ways to help our teen drivers through this most dangerous year... and beyond.
Consider downloading and printing an agreement to discuss with your teen that can become a roadmap to safer driving. And sign up for our service that gives you ideas on what and how to practice driving with your teen AFTER they get their license. And share with other parents how this is working for you.
Inexperience is the leading cause of teen crashes
Our teens think they know everything about driving as soon as they get their license. But all it takes is one ride with them for you to know there are lots of situations they are not prepared to deal with.
The safest way for them to gain experience is for you to ride with them frequently to make sure you see they are doing things right.
As our teensare learning how to drive, many states require a minimum number of practice hours before they get their license. Required or not, the safest way for them to continue learning skills is for you to ride with them as they practice, for a full year after they get their license.
Remember - it's not whether our teens are "good kids" or "responsible" behind the wheel. They are new drivers. What matters most is their inexperience. Regardless of behavior, all teens are inexperienced and all teens are subject to the same risks.
The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute in April 2011 identified teen drivers' most common errors that lead to crashes. Three out of four serious teen driver crashes are due to inexperience - not scanning the roadway, following too closely or losing control. 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 practice, the better. Start off driving during the daytime, then gradually add practice at night and bad weather.
Staying focused on driving
Everyone knows not to use the phone (hand held and hands-free are EQUALLY risky) or text while driving. The crash stats are so compelling many companies are banning any use of any phone by employees while driving (including those in sales!). So you can imagine how difficult it is for a new driver to drive while talking on the phone or texting (even worse!).
But not everyone knows that one of the highest-risk driving situations for teens is having other young passengers in the car. Talk about distractions.
What else is potentially lethal for the new driver? Applying make-up. Reading. Using the internet to do things like search for restaurants. Looking for things in the glove box or in a purse.
These are all distractions that are within the driver's control - and should be avoided.
But distractions also happen outside the car. Interesting signs, events on the side of the road,beautiful scenery. These distractions are hard to avoid. You need to remind them to keep their eyes moving and scan the road.
The point is... when our teens are driving, they must stay focused on the task at hand. Driving.
And one of the best ways for them to learn how is to watch you drive - distraction free.
Three seconds is all
Potential hazards are on the road. Or near the road. They are created by other drivers. Or they are other drivers.They are in the environment. And they change moment by moment. Some hazards are so dangerous, permanent traffic signs warn us of them. Others are more subtle, and harder to spot, or anticipate.
Over years of driving we adults have gotten very good at reacting to these hazards and avoiding them.
But our newly licensed teens have a lot to learn.
Many times they are not clear on what is a potential hazard. What to look for. Or how to react.
The science says, they only have about three seconds. One to recognize the hazard. Two more to react.
But they can't react to what they don't see.
That is why it is so important that they scan constantly for hazards. They need to know what is in front of them. What is behind them. And what is beside them. They need to use those mirrors. And think about what they would do if... Because as they drive everything is always changing. And the safest way is to scan ahead.
Too fast for the situation
Sometimes teens drive recklessly over the speed limit. They do it for kicks. And that is clearly an invitation to disaster.
Sometimes they drive too fast even when driving slower than the speed limit. The conditions are just that unsafe. Sometimes they follow too close, they make illegal turns, or they pass dangerously.
New teen drivers have yet to learn how their car will react in different traffic and weather situations. So they often don't know what is appropriate. And they don't really fully understand the risks.
And how many times have we been in a traffic flow where everyone is driving faster than the speed limit?
When we are behind the wheel we should always remember to drive the way we want our teens to drive - safely and under the speed limit.
How many teens can safely ride with new drivers?
The answer is... NONE.
Not brothers and sisters. Not that special date on that special night. And certainly not a group of friends.
Remember passengers die in teen driver crashes too. A lot of them.
Many states allow siblings (brothers and sisters) to ride with new teen drivers. But that is not because they are safer to haul around than other kids. They are allowed because politicians would not have been able to pass the legislation without the carrot of getting us parents out of the taxi service sooner.
The safety research is clear. For the first six months after teens get their license, our new teen drivers should have no young passengers. And if they can hold out for a year, they will be even safer.
People still don't wear seat belts!
It is pretty incredible that in this day and age many drivers still don't wear seat belts. After all we know about how seat belts save lives. Or how we need to click it or get that ticket.
Turns out teens are the population group least likely to wear their seat belts. So it should be no surprise that most of the teens killed in car crashes were not wearing seat belts.
As parents, we need to lead by example and make sure we wear our belts each time we drive.
It is safer to drive during the day
As night falls, it's harder to see and be seen. Even familiar surroundings look different seen under street lights and lit up by headlights.
No wonder crash rates increase for everyone at night - not just teens.
It is an incredibly dangerous time for teens to drive. Mile for mile, 16 and 17 year old drivers are about three times as likely to be involved in a fatal car crash at night than during the day.
Remember - fatigue is starting to set in as well.
And they don't have to be out super late. The research shows almost 17 % of teen driving fatalities (ages 15 - 17) happens between 9PM and midnight.
The idea is to give our teens lots of opportunities to learn how to drive at night - with an adult supervisor in the car. And if there is no trusted supervisor, then only very gradually should you extend the hours they are allowed to keep the car out as they gain experience... over the course of a year or so.
Drinking, drugs and drowsiness
What happens when an inexperienced driver has a few drinks and gets behind the wheel? Nothing good.
That's why in all 50 states there are zero tolerance laws for underage drinking and driving.
All drivers, all ages, all genders, all metabolisms, become impaired with very little alcohol intake. Or illegal drug intake.
And the myth that drinking coffee or taking a cold shower helps is just that - a myth.
Alcohol is by far the biggest drug problem in America. It contributes to more crashes and more highway deaths than cocaine, heroin and every other illegal drug combined.
The safest strategy for any driver - especially teens - is to just say no.
Don't forget about prescription drugs either. Some legally prescribed medications and over the counter medicines might be as mind altering as alcohol. Check labels before you let your teen drive.
Finally, whether due to medication, undiagnosed sleep disorders, drug use or time of day, driving drowsy is also extremely dangerous. A tired driver is a dangerous driver.