My basic list of cautions for parents of teen drivers
- Safer teen driving starts with informed, conservative decisions about whether teens get behind the wheel of a car in the first place. Teaching
teens to operate a vehicle safely is Step 2.
- Driving is the leading cause of death for people under age 20 in the United States.
- Safer teen driving is everyone's concern. In 2010, nearly 3,000 teen drivers died, but their crashes killed more than 3,000
passengers, other drivers, and pedestrians.
- There is no such thing as a safe teen driver. We can train teens to operate a vehicle, but we cannot overcome the facts that the human brain
does not fully appreciate risk and danger until the person reaches the mid-20's, and that safe driving requires several years of experience, not 20
or 50 or even 100 hours on the road and in a classroom. In addition, after being trained locally, teens regularly drive to places they have never
driven in before, so they are learning simultaneously to drive and to navigate.
- Driver education classes, whether taught by a high school or commercial driving school, only provide basic instruction on how to operate a
vehicle. For the reasons listed in No. 4 above, a graduate of “Driver's Ed” is not an experienced driver.
- Teen driving laws, known in most states as Graduated Driver Laws or "GDLs," have solid public safety evidence behind them. They prohibit or
restrict the highest-risk driving by teens. Across the U.S., strict GDLs are reducing crashes and saving lives.
- Enforcement of teen driving laws is primarily up to parents; police can only help. Police cannot stop a vehicle based solely on a perception of
the driver's age.
- Just because teen driver laws that deal with passengers, electronic devices, seat belts, and curfews are hard for police to enforce doesn't mean that these laws are ineffective, or that state law should not set safety standards.
- Don’t push a teen who, for whatever reason, is not ready to drive safely -- which can be based on not appreciating the risks, physical or
emotional immaturity, or fear. Just because a teen reaches the age where state law allows him or her to obtain a learner's permit or
license does not mean he or she is ready to drive safely. And if a driving instructor tells you that your teen is not or might not be ready to
drive, don't argue.
- Use a teen driving contract, and enforce it.
- Recognize the factors that substantially increase the already-high risk of a teen driver getting in a crash: speeding, drugs and alcohol,
fatigue, bad weather, or an unsafe vehicle.
- Understand that each passenger in a teen’s car increases the likelihood of a crash.
- Demand full seat belt compliance by every teen driver, and every passenger in a car driven by a teen.
- Recognize the difference between "purposeful" and "recreational" driving. When teen drivers have a clear destination, route, and timetable and
a consequence for arriving late, they are likely to arrive safely. "Joyriding" – driving for fun with no destination, reason, or timetable, and
especially with passengers -- is a well-documented cause of teen driver crashes.
- Be aware that the most dangerous hours of the day for teen drivers are the two hours directly after school lets out, and 9:00 p.m. to midnight.
- If a teen receives a ticket or citation, make him take his medicine quickly – accept the fine, penalty, retraining, or suspension without
argument or delay.
- If you can afford one of the many technologies now available to track your teen's driving, such as a global positioning system or vehicle speed
tracking, buy and install it.
- Don't compromise your teen’s safety for your convenience, or to save on gasoline. Don't let the demands of your busy schedule lull you into
allowing a teen to drive in unsafe circumstances.
- In summary: Train your teen to thoroughly to operate a vehicle safely, and be a good role model, but before anything else, think carefully, day-by-day, about whether and when your teen should get behind the wheel.