In recent national news, three major car crashes claimed the lives of 15 teenagers in Ohio, Illinois and Texas. Unfortunately, that is more of a common occurrence than we realize, and those are just the ones that made national news. The Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) recently reported that teenage driver fatalities were up in 2012 from previous years. Until now, the numbers were beginning to trend downwards and many attributed it to Graduated Drivers License (GDL) Laws that were being enacted around the country.
So what do we do to keep our teens safe on the road?
In those three collisions there were multiple passengers in the vehicles. Some states have passenger restrictions for newly licensed teens, but parents need to talk to their teens about the danger of carrying passengers and how they can be a major distraction. If parents are going to allow their teens to have passengers in their vehicle then set clear rules and expectations. For example, limit the number of passengers you will allow them to have in their car and set rules regarding volume of music, use of seat belts, and that they (the driver) must stay focused on driving. If music needs to be changed, or a call or text needs to be answered, then those are passenger responsibilities leaving the driver focused on getting them to their destination safely.
Another strategy for parents is to set limits on where their newly licensed teens can go. There are a multitude of technology solutions on the market where a parent can literally create a geographic fence with a GPS device or on the teenager’s smartphone. Most teenager’s don’t like the idea of being monitored, but it is a parental responsibility to help them understand these are measures to keep them safe, and it is part of the agreement to allow them to become licensed. A newly licensed teen shouldn’t have the ability to go anywhere, anytime, with anybody. This is the time to set boundaries, not let them have free reign. As they continue to build experience and prove they are responsible, the rules and boundaries can be revisited.
Before a teenager becomes licensed it is important to develop a clear set of expectations, rules and responsibilities for the privilege of becoming a licensed driver. It is also important to clearly define the consequences of breaking the rules and not living up to the responsibilities. This is a parent-teen contract that many insurance companies and traffic safety organizations highly recommend. There is evidence that teenagers with boundaries and rules are less likely to be involved in a collision.
It is important to talk to teens about the responsibility of driving and that it is not something to be taken lightly or brushed off as some right of passage. Driving requires skill, decision-making, judgment and a mature attitude. The consequences of poor decision-making are significant and lives can be lost or altered forever. How does a teenager begin to prepare for this life skill? It starts at home with open dialogue, as well as through education and training to develop the necessary skills. As with anything, it also requires the practice necessary to develop mastery. Driving is more than making turns and the ability to stay in a lane. It is a mental process of scanning, planning and acting in a matter of seconds.
Parents need to talk to their teens and model safe driving behavior to help instill what it means to be a responsible driver.
Maria Wojtczak is owner of East Valley-based DrivingMBA.