REALITY CHECK: Nearly 10,000 youths have died as passengers in car crashes. Of those crashes, 54% were riding with a teen driver. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for tweens and teens.
See also my post, 9 Ways to Curb Teen Drinking and Driving Dangers
This week yet there were more sobering headlines in our own local papers: two more horrific car crashes involved teens from our local high schools. Both crashes happened within a few days of one another. Three teens lives were cut short. Others are in critical condition. And once again I shutter, and then I cry.
I’ve had five close friends over the last ten years lose their beautiful teen sons in driving fatalities. All were the most loving of parents, all the boys were wonderful, glorious, and good, and each parent would have read this prior to the worst day of their life, and said, “Not my kid.”
But the stark reality is such a tragedy could happen to your child. So please read this carefully and take this very seriously — especially as these holiday approach and teens have more driving time. Knowing the risks just may save your child or their friend.
Study highlights which reveal the most dangerous driving circumstances for youth:
- Driving with inexperienced (less than a year driver) on high-speed roads (more than three-quarters of the fatal crashes occurred on roads with speed limits higher than 45 mph)
- Driving without a seatbelt: nearly two-thirds of youth passengers were not wearing seat belts
- Driving with a male teen driver who had been drinking and on weekends: 72% of crashes happened between 6 am to 10 pm.
Source: Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
11 Essential Parenting Dos and Don’ts to Keep Teen Drivers Safer
Here are a few essential Dos and Don’ts parenting solutions based on research findings that just may keep your teen safer. I know some of these are “easier said than done,” but that’s where talking, talking and talking to your teen over and over and over come in — (as well as monitoring, monitoring, and more monitoring).
1. Do NOT let your teen drive with a teen with less than a year’s driving experience
The risk is too great. I know this is going to be inconvenient. But please review those research studies carefully. Many states do not allow teens to drive with a peer-check your state law.
2. Do NOT let your inexperienced teen drive over 40 mph
This one is tough to uphold but monitor. There are new devices that parents are installing in their cars so they can watch their teen’s driving habits. So you require your teen to start by driving only those roads which are 25 mph – or use the “baby step model” – start with 25 mph and then gradually let your teen on faster roads when he or she gains crucial experience.
3. Do NOT let your teen get into a car without wearing a seat belt
Make sure you mandate wearing them in your own car. And talk, talk, talk about the life-saving feature of wearing those belts.
4. DO NOT let your kid use that darn cell phone – or other technology when driving
Figure out a way that your teen doesn’t have to go switching channels on his Ipod when driving. Many states do not let adults use cell phones when driving -and the fines are stiff if caught. Review the law with your teen. Some companies also allow the parent to shut off the teen’s phone – or use only in emergencies (like a 911 call). Look into it. What you want is your teen to have both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road.
I did a Dateline special on this subject and a huge issue came up: many teens accused their parents of texting and driving more than the teen. (The research also supports this).
Many parents in our Dateline segment purchased Videocams that could record their teen’s behavior and review the footage together. Research again supports this: teen’s are less likely to engage in risky behavior if they know they are being monitored. Let your teen know you are monitoring! Make him take a pledge
5. DO teach your teen how to bulk peer pressure
A study by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America of over 46,000 teens revealed that peer pressure is one of the biggest issues they face and that “Just say no stuff”does not work. Teens want you to teach them specific things they can do and say to counter that peer pressure.
6. DO give your teen (and each of his friends) a card with phone numbers of taxicab services to call
Put emergency cab fare money (like fifty dollars) in a drawer and tell your teen it is “Just in case you ever need a taxi cab.”Make sure your kid has a safe way home in case of drinking or sleep deprivation. Driving home late and sleepy killed two of my friends’ sons. They were not drinking.
7. DO tell your teen that if he ever abuses your car rules those keys will be removed
One of my girlfriend’s sons lost the car privilege for a year (and learned his lesson); another hid her son’s car in another friend’s garage to ensure her child could access it. Yes MOM!!!
8.DO have your teen sign a contract
Specify that passengers must wear seat belts, which roads he may drive on, speed limits he must adhere to and of course never drink. Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD – and founded as Students Against Driving Drunk) is an organization you may want to connect with. If also provides a free online contract you can download.
9. DO get on board with other parents
Introduce yourself. Exchange phone numbers. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a great organization that mobilizes parents.
10. DO set up a secret code in your family
In our house if one of my sons ever called any time and said, “Mom, I think I’m getting the flu” it was my signal to drop everything and go pick up my child. It meant he was in a tough situation and needed a “rescue.” Turns out he was at a party that was supposed to be supervised by parents who decided to be “cool” and supply kegs while they left the kids. Those parents should have been arrested, but I was so glad we had that secret code. I also have a pack with my girlfriend that if she’s not available I will pick up her kids, and she mine. We’ve only had to do so once and we still are so grateful we had that pact. Also set up a secret text code such as 111 or 333–something so simple and memorable that your child could instantly text you that code and you would know to drive and pick up your teen, ASAP.
11. DO carefully think through if your teen really is ready to drive at 16
Every study shows that most kids that age are not mature enough to get behind that wheel. Remember this isn’t about your convenience, but your teen’s life. Your final decision should be made based on your’s teen’s maturity, trustworthiness, past behavior, peer interactions and your instinct. Don’t waver if you have a doubt. You can always change your mind.
Keep your teen safe! This is life and death stuff. Nothing is more precious than our children. Please pass this information on to another parent. Let’s save our kids together!
DO IT! (PLEASE!)
For more information and specific tips on how to reduce risky behaviors refer to The Book of Book of Parenting Solutions especially the chapters on drinking, steroids, peer pressure and sex. Research shows that while there is no silver bullet that protects our kids, moms and dads who are “hands-on” in their parenting approach (adhere to a curfew, know their kids friends, voice their concerns about drinking and drugs, monitor their teens’ comings and goings and are not afraid to SAY NO) greatly reduce their teens’ risky behaviors. When it comes to drinking and driving, please tune up your “hands-on parenting.” This is a matter of life and death.
Dr. Michele Borba
Follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba or subscribe to my blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check.