Handing over the car keys to a newly licensed driver is a significant milestone for teens and parents alike. As a parent, if you lay awake worrying about your teen’s newfound independence and the risks it poses, you’re not alone. And you’re not crazy. The data shows that your worries are well-founded. Teen drivers face the highest risk of accidents among any age group, and car crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers.
What are the most significant factors?
Three things contribute to serious accidents involving teens:
- Failing to identify and respond to hazards
- Speeding (or going too fast for the road conditions)
- Distracted driving
These factors boil down to one thing: inexperience. Teens simply don’t have the judgment and skills of an experienced adult driver. They’re more likely to take risks, they’re more susceptible to peer pressure and they’re less likely to know how to handle close calls. Together, these factors create a recipe for tragedy.
How to keep your teen safe
Parents play a critical role in educating their teens and establishing ground rules. Here are some tips to help keep your new driver safe:
- Talk to them about the risks. Take the time to discuss the dangers of distracted driving, drunk driving and the like. Research shows that parent involvement can make a big difference when it comes to helping teens internalize what they’ve learned in driver’s ed.
- Limit passengers. Under North Carolina’s graduated license system, drivers with a level two limited provisional license are limited to one passenger under age 21 (except for siblings). Even once your teen has a full provisional license, however, it’s wise to limit the number of other teens who can ride along. Doing so reduces distractions and avoids the temptation to show off or engage in reckless behavior.
- Eliminate distractions. Impose a strict “no cellphones while driving” rule. Avoid other distractions like eating while driving. Teach your teen the importance of “eyes on the road, hands on the wheel” at all times.
- Avoid night driving. After dark – late night and early morning – is a high-risk period for accidents. Whenever possible, limit your teen’s driving to the daytime.
- Be a good role model. Every parent has “do I as I say, not as I do” moments, especially when it comes to driving. However, you can make a big impact by becoming a safer driver yourself. Always wear a seatbelt, don’t speed and exercise good judgment behind the wheel. Better yet, talk to your teen when they’re in the car with you. Give them a play-by-play of what hazards you’re responding to and what you’re looking out for.
By implementing these guidelines, parents can sleep better at night knowing their teens are less likely to become a statistic.