teen driversafety guide
Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States. On average,
a teenage driver is more than twice as likely to be involved in a crash than any other driver.
Despite this, there are very real steps that young drivers and their parents can take to make driving safer.
This guide will provide tangible, clear, and simple steps to help reduce
the risk of driving for teenagers.
By far the biggest determinant of a teen’s likelihood of crashing is his or her behavior while driving. The driver has the capacity to make decisions that make driving riskier, or those that make it less so.
ditch the cell phone
The ubiquity of smartphones in the lives of modern teens has a major consequence on the safety of their driving. According to a study undertaken by AAA, 70% of teens admit to talking on a cell phone while driving and 50% of teens admit to reading a text message or email while driving.
Putting a phone on silent is not sufficient when it comes to eliminating distractions; there still remains the temptation to check notifications or social media, especially when at a stop light. Along with being illegal, this is extremely dangerous.
choose passengers wisely
Being a safe driver is not enough when it comes to crash statistics: the presence of others in your car can greatly impact your likelihood of being killed in a crash. If you are a driver aged 16 to 17, your chances of being killed in a car crash:
Increases by 44% when carrying a passenger under 21
Doubles when carrying 2 passengers younger than 21
Quadruples when carrying 3 more passengers under 21
Along with the distractions caused by other passengers, there is the near constant distraction from the car itself. Whether it’s blaring the radio, flicking between stations, or generally taking in sights and sounds on the route, it’s easy to lose concentration while on the road.
Keep the radio at a low enough volume that it doesn’t become a distraction, and ask your passenger to be in charge of DJ-ing.
wear a safety belt
The statistics behind wearing a safety belt are well known. Along with ensuring that you don’t lurch forward in a crash, a safety belt will protect others within the car. Most states have very clear laws on wearing safety belts and will issue an instant ticket if you are caught without one.
Especially important is making sure those in the back of the car wear a safety belt. If a crash were to take place, those in the back of the car would be thrown into the back of the front seats at a great force, often causing major bodily injury to the driver and front passenger.
Minimizing the in-car distractions are one part of being safer, but the manner in which a teen drives is equally important. The natural tendency for any new driver finally allowed out on the road is to go as fast as possible and enjoy their freedom.
According to the DMV, defensive driving involves the following:
- Watching and respecting other drivers
- Controlling your speed
- Being alert and distraction-free
- Maintaining a safe following distance
- Looking ahead and expecting the unexpected
- Driving safely for weather and / or road conditions
- Preparedness for the reactions of other drivers
no alcohol or drugs
According to the CDC, 1 in 10 teens drinks and drives, and 1 in 5 teen drivers involved in a fatal crash had some alcohol in their system; 81% of these drivers had blood alcohol content higher than the legal limit for adults (.08%). Young drivers are 17 times more likely to die in a crash when they have a BAC of .08% than when they have not been drinking at all.
manage your speed
The big issue with speeding is that it increases the distance needed to stop the car, while also reducing the reaction time. According to the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, in crashes where teen driver error was the cause, 21% were a result of the driver going too fast for road conditions. Speeding also makes it more likely that crashes will result in injuries.
account for road conditions
Knowing how to respond to road conditions comes with experience. In some conditions, it’s simply not enough to obey the speed limit.
For example, braking distance is significantly increased in heavy rain; visibility can be greatly diminished during fog or poor light; snow or ice can make controlling the car far more difficult.
For teens, the best course of action is to drive with an experienced driver when conditions are new. If that is not possible (for example, when heavy rain comes on suddenly), driving as cautiously as possible will ensure that any dangers are minimized.
aim for 100 hours
100 hours is not a magic number after which you will automatically become a safe driver.
However, as a rule of thumb, logging 100 hours will mean that you have experienced most road conditions and incidents. If you are under 100 hours of driving, aim to have an experienced passenger with you where possible.
buy a safe car
Choosing which car to buy for a teen can make a huge difference when it comes to safety. Buying a car capable of high speeds may be attractive for a teen, but the chances are it will encourage them to drive faster.
Similarly, despite the perceived safety levels of sports utility vehicles, they have the capacity to roll over in crashes. Instead, choose a car that has a lower center of gravity.
In addition, you should consider the following features:
Antilock braking system (ABS). This system helps keep a car under control during extreme braking, and makes skidding less likely, particularly in slick or icy conditions.
Daytime running lights. This will allow other road users to see the car at all times. This is particularly useful in poor lighting (such as dusk) when many teens fail to use their lights.
Electronic stability control. This helps to keep a car under control at high speeds. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, ESC reduces rollovers by 70-88%.
Airbags. More and more cars are being automatically fitted with airbags. Front airbags are increasingly standard. In conjunction with safety belts, front airbags minimize injuries sustained by crashes. Side-impact airbags (a newer innovation) have reduced driver deaths by 37% in cars and 52% in SUVs
Adjustable head restraints. These are designed to minimize the impact of whiplash during a crash. These should be adjusted properly for the individual to have maximum effectiveness.
maintain the vehicle
Ensuring your vehicle is regularly maintained is crucial in keeping it running safely. Poorly maintained brakes and tires, for example, are a major risk and are likely to make it harder to control a vehicle in an emergency.
tips for parents
AAA recommends a pre-drive check-in every time a teen wants to drive alone. The key information they recommend you glean is:
Who will be in the vehicle
This will also give you an opportunity to run through some last minute safety tips with your teen before they head off on their drive.
As shown above, 100 hours is a useful rule of thumb when it comes to driving experience. Before your teen hits the 100 hours, you should regularly supervise your teen’s driving. This is especially true when it comes to new driving conditions, especially heavy rain, night driving, and icy conditions. Aim to be in the car the first time your teen encounters these conditions.
Offering feedback can be the most trying part of the parent-child driving relationship. You should aim to give your teen regular communication about driving, albeit in a respectful and calm manner.
be a role model
Just as important as when you’re in the passenger seat is when you’re in the driving seat. You should aim to always set a positive example for your teen when you’re the driver.
Think very clearly about how you would like your teen to drive, and aim to drive in a similar manner. In particular, think about your speed and your attitude to other drivers.
AAA has a StartSmart Parent-Teen Driving Agreement available for download.
This is a quasi-contract between a parent and a child about driving privileges, rules, and consequences, and is signed by both parent and teen. This will set very clear boundaries to your child about what is expected of him or her when in the car. It also carries both rewards for driving safely and punishments for breaking the contract.
Having a mature conversation with your teen, even if they are already driving alone, will go a long way to establishing clear boundaries, and to help your child understand how to become a responsible driver.