When teens begin to drive, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Safety Council, the sobering statistics start to pile up:
- Car crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens ages 14 through 18.
- A teen’s crash risk is three times that of more experienced drivers.
- Being in a car with three or more teen passengers quadruples a teen driver’s crash risk.
- More than half of teens killed in crashes were not wearing a seat belt.
You can help your young driver make better decisions behind the wheel, however. Start by setting a good example yourself. And set time aside to have a serious discussion about the following issues, all of which have a large impact on the safety of teen drivers:
- Speed: According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, speeding continues to grow as a factor in fatal crashes involving teen drivers. Thirty-three percent of such accidents in 2011 involved excessive speed. While a lot of emphasis is rightfully placed on the risks of driving under the influence or while distracted, the danger of speeding is just as important.
- Alcohol: If drivers are under 21, driving with any amount of alcohol in their system is illegal. It’s as simple as that. And not only does the risk of a serious crash increase once alcohol is involved, jail time is a possibility as well.
- Seat belts: Teens don’t use their seat belts as frequently as adults, so it’s important to set a good example and always have yours on. Seat belts are the simplest way to protect themselves in a crash, so let teens know that buckling up is mandatory.
- Phones: Distracted driving is dangerous driving, especially for an inexperienced teen. That means no calls or texting when behind the wheel — no exceptions. Again, it pays to set a good example when you’re driving with your teen in the car.
- Passengers: The risk of a fatal crash goes up as the number of passengers in a teen driver’s car increases, according to the NHTSA. Depending on your state’s licensing laws for young drivers, limiting your teen to one passenger is a good guideline. (And some states don’t allow teens to have any passengers for a time.)
Of course, any driver needs to have a good grasp on the laws and rules of the road, and, because teens don’t have much experience, it’s important to have regular conversations about safe driving. How teens drive doesn’t just depend on them. It depends on you, too!