From the time they were little kids, we have preached to our children about being careful – watch when you cross the street, don’t talk to strangers, don’t jaywalk, don’t ride your bicycle in an unsafe place, don’t be a bully, listen to your teachers, obey your parents, the list goes on and on.  Everything we have told our children from the time they were toddlers was for their own safety.  It is a big responsibility to teach children right from wrong, and to guide them to grow up to be responsible teens and adults.

Because science explains that the brain doesn’t fully mature until we are in our twenties, it means that some of the decisions young persons make until that time will be very important ones that will determine their safety and well-being.  Teen Driver Safety Week, which is sponsored by the National Safety Council, is held each June to educate and encourage safe behaviors around the leading causes of preventable injuries and deaths.  Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens in the U.S.  More teens lose their lives in motor vehicle crashes than the next three causes combined – homicide, suicide and unintentional drug overdose.  They need to understand this, and also that the risk of being in a car crash is at a lifetime high in the first six to 12 months and 1,000 miles of driving.  This risk can be reduced by a combination of gradual exposure to higher-risk situations and practice under parental supervision.  

Parents are the key to basic safety driving skills for teens.  Here are some great suggestions from State Farm Insurance to begin a good driving instruction program:

  • Review the controls and features of the car.  Make sure your teen knows how each one works:
  • Dashboard controls;
  • Steering wheel and seat adjustment;
  • Mirror adjustment;
  • Turn signals;
  • Headlights;
  • Wipers;
  • Air bags and seat belts;
  • Emergency lights;
  • Parking brake/release;
  • Starting/turning off the engine;
  • Gas, brakes (especially ABS)
  • Warning indicator lights on dashboard.
  • The location of the  registration, insurance card and manual. 

I must admit I did not go over all that with our three teens.  I briefly explained things to them, and then we drove on some low-traffic unpaved roads.  Take your teen to an empty parking lot, and have them practice applying gas and brakes, driving straight, turning, and backing up.

This is the time to remind your teen driver to pay attention to the surroundings by (a)  looking ahead and to the sides; (b) checking mirrors; (c) scanning continuously for hazards, and (d) teaching your teen to keep a clear “safety space” around the car, so there’s room to react to any hazards.  The farther he or she hangs back from the vehicle in front, the better your teen will be able to see what’s ahead.  Seeing better and farther provides extra time to react to changing traffic conditions. 

Graduated Driver Licensing is a proven road to improving teen safety.  GDL is a novice driver licensing system that is proven effective at reducing teen drivers’ high crash risk by 20-40%.  States with more comprehensive GDL systems see a higher reduction in teen crashes.  GDL reduces teen driver exposure to high crash risk situations, such as nighttime driving and teen passengers.  This allows new drivers to build experience and skills in lower-risk situations.  The three stages of GDL licensure are: 1. A learner’s permit that allows driving only while supervised by a fully licensed driver. 2. An intermediate (sometimes provisional) license that allows unsupervised driving under certain restrictions including nighttime and passenger limits. 3. A full license. 

We all learn to be better drivers with experience in different situations.  Today’s drivers have too many distractions; teens need to learn to put those distractions aside and focus on the main goal: getting from point A to point B in one piece.  Any of us can make a wrong decision behind the wheel.  Teens are at jeopardy the most.  They have a unique mix of inexperience, distraction, peer pressure, and the tendency to underestimate risk. 

It’s up the parents and peers to encourage safety to their teens every time they get behind the wheel.  These young people have the right to take their place on the roads, we just have to help them understand the importance of keeping both themselves and other drivers safe at all times.


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