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Teen Drivers - Suggestions for Keeping Them Safe

It is well documented that newly licensed teen drivers are some of the most dangerous drivers on the road. For years, states have tried to address this problem in various ways, but this problem still persists.

What more can be done to help make teen drivers more capable behind the wheel? This article offers some suggestions, along with links to other helpful information.

“I met a guy in Vegas last night, and we got married.”
“I just qualified for platinum status at the Acme Tattoo and Body Piercing Emporium.”
“I just had a car accident.” 

Of all the things you hope you’ll never hear your teenager call you to say, “I just had a car accident” is one of the scariest, most serious and, unfortunately, most likely to occur. Driving is arguably the most dangerous activity in which we regularly participate. It is far more dangerous than other types of transportation. For example, no one has died on a U.S. commercial airliner in over eight years. By contrast, there were 37,461 deaths on American roads in 2016, while in Georgia, my state of residence, 1,527 people died in road accidents in 2017. During just the 2018 New Year’s weekend, nine people died on Georgia roads. Yet most people worry more about their flight than they do the drive to and from the airport.  

As hazardous as driving is overall, it is significantly more dangerous for drivers under the age of 20, and even more risky for the least experienced teen drivers. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, teenagers are involved in fatal crashes at about three times the rate of drivers who are 20 and over, and the fatality rate for 16 to 17 year olds is twice as high as it is for 18 to 19 year olds. Nationally, about six teenagers die every day in auto accidents.

By implementing initiatives such as enhanced training requirements and graduated licensing programs, every state in the U.S. has taken steps to help new drivers navigate the treacherous early years of driving. But the problem of new driver accidents still persists. 

Since humans have proven to be so inept at operating motor vehicles, perhaps autonomous autos will ultimately help improve these statistics. However, with the reality of roads filled with self-driving cars still being a number of years away and most teenagers still keen on learning how to drive, we have to look for ways to ensure that our teen drivers are as safe as possible, especially as they navigate their first few years of driving. Below are some suggestions that may help.

Arm your teen with as many hours behind the wheel as possible before getting a license. 

Once your teen gets a learner's permit, give him or her every possible chance to drive in every traffic and weather situation you can stomach. Once, we accompanied our 15 year old (newly permitted) daughter as she drove through a powerful thunderstorm on thin, winding roads high in the North Carolina Mountains. As the visibility dropped to near zero and the road became little more than a raging stream, I began to doubt the wisdom of this plan. However, she drove skillfully and with focus. The storm soon subsided and relative calm quickly returned. As white knuckled as this trip was, I was glad that she experienced this driving situation with a parent next to her before having to deal with these types of conditions on her own. 

Provide as much driver training as possible.

In addition to the state-required training, which doesn't usually include challenging driving conditions, try to find additional training that is focused on dealing with emergency situations, such as panic braking, emergency lane changes and dealing with low traction situations. Many similar courses are now offered for students with learner’s permits. They range from low-priced sessions, using your own car, to higher-priced sessions where a car is provided. Each of my kids attended one of these. As a result, their skill level and confidence improved immediately. Some ideas are in my list of resources below.

Set your own graduated licensing rules.

In addition to following whatever graduated licensing rules are imposed by your state, consider adding your own restrictions, thereby allowing your teen driver to gradually build up skills in the months after getting a license. In my house, we generally allowed only driving to and from school for a month or so and then, gradually, expanded the distance.

Put your teen in the safest car you can.

Modern cars today are very safe, especially compared with what most of us drove when we were in high school. Virtually every car comes with a full suite of high tech safety features and most do well when crash tested. Still, some cars test better than others. You can dig into the technical measurements underlying the ratings and learn which cars do especially well in crashes. See the links below for more information.

Talk to your teen about the issue of distracted driving and impaired driving.

Aside from not texting while driving, it should go without saying but make sure you have a meaningful talk with your teen about the importance of not driving when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. And for those all-nighters spent studying, let them know that driving while drowsy can be as dangerous as drunk driving.

Say more than “drive carefully.”

Simply reminding your kids to drive carefully in the reflexive and off-handed way so many of us do may fall on already deafened teenage ears. Being more specific and switching things up may be more effective. As they leave the house, I tell my kids things like: “Don’t hit the car in front of you,” or “It’s Monday and there are always a lot of maniacs on the roads on Mondays” or “Don’t use your phone while driving! You don’t want to hit a dog”. (That one always seems to get a reaction as no one wants to hit a dog.) I’m sure they think I’m a bit of a nut, but it may help remind them that driving is serious business, and they need to be focused on it.

Make sure your kids know what to do if they are involved in or if they witness an accident.

Talk to your teen about things like getting off the road to safety, calling 911 to reach the police, taking lots of pictures of license plates, drivers' licenses, insurance policies, and even the position of the cars involved. 

Set a good example!

How you drive is how your kids will drive. One of my favorite quotes, attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, is apropos here, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

These suggestions are by no means all encompassing, but hopefully they will help keep our teen drivers safe as they venture out on their own, especially during those dangerous early years of driving.  Now, as for what to do if you get that call from Vegas, I’m afraid you’re on your own there!

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Helping risk managers make the most informed decisions.

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