Teaching Teen Drivers

Teens in the U.S. are placed in more danger than teens in most other developed countries—the reason being that they are allowed to drive at an earlier age. In most European countries, the licensing age is 18, 19, or even older, and vehicles are too expensive for young people to own and less necessary to have. In the U.S., the crash rate per mile for 16-year-olds is about three times that of 18- or 19-year-olds, and four times that of older drivers. Overall, teen drivers are about twenty times as likely to crash than other drivers. Attribute that to two main factors: a lack of experience, and a propensity to take risks.

What you can do:

Encourage graduated licensing laws for your state. Many states are now either raising the minimum driving age or moving to graduated licensing programs, which add more driving privileges in several progressive steps. They may include curfew laws, restrictions on passengers, supplementary education programs, and zero tolerance on traffic violations.

Choose a safe first vehicle.First cars should be safe, late-model cars with a low center of mass. Avoid small cars, sports cars, and, yes, SUVs. Most sport-utility vehicles, and especially smaller ones, can tip over if recklessly driven, and teens are more likely to be in single-vehicle accidents while driving them. Check www.nhtsa.dot.gov for federal crash test results for most vehicles dating back to 1990.

Emphasize the dangers of distractions.If you allow your teen to have a cell phone, remind him or her to never use it while driving. You may also place restrictions on when friends may ride along.

Set an example.That means no speeding or aggressive driving with your children in the car.

Come to an understanding about drinking and driving. Offer to pick your teen up at any time—no questions asked—if he or she has been drinking. It has been estimated that more than ten percent of teens under 18 have driven under the influence of alcohol.

Discourage or ban your teen from carrying passengers. Having passengers in the car makes the risk of an accident several times greater.

Place restrictions on night driving. Although young eyes are better to adapt to darkness than older ones, teens are more likely to take risks in social situations at night.

Take interest in supervising and teaching. When it comes to driving, compliments and constructive criticism are the only way to go. Any harsh criticism is more likely to end in rebellion, and possibly tragedy. Make sure your teen knows about common-sense, defensive driving techniques that might be overlooked in driver ed programs, such as using lane right-of-way rules and keeping to the right.

Don’t rely on driver education programs to train your teen. High school programs only teach basic skills and can include as little as six hours of on-the-road training. You may want to supplement the normal driver ed program with a program or school that concentrates on defensive driving techniques and basic car control. Although it’s important that teens understand the limits of their car, the best educational programs teach defensive driving techniques and car-control lessons oriented toward accident avoidance rather than performance driving. Examples of such programs are Young Drivers (www.youngdrivers.com) and the Bridgestone Winter Driving School (www.winterdrive.com, 800-WHY-SKID). Also, the American Institute for Public Safety (AIPS, www.aipsnews.com) has video- and Internet-based supplementary educational courses on defensive driving.
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