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Child Safety: Teaching your teen to drive

Though I still have quite a few years before I have to worry about teaching a teenager to drive, I’m sure the time will be here before I know it…and the thought is already anxiety provoking! I had the privilege to attend a talk recently about teen driving by Dr. Dennis Durbin, Director of the Center for Injury Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). This talk really hit home with me, as I realized how important it is that we take the time as parents to teach our children to drive as safely as possible.

First of all, it’s important to know that motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death among adolescents.  It is also true that the greatest lifetime risk of a crash occurs in the first 6 months of driving. Gulp. How will we ever let our teens behind the wheel?

Start by being a good role model for your teen, taking the time to practice with them, and setting appropriate limits for driving. Studies have shown that parents who set rules and pay attention to their teen’s activities lower their crash risk by half. Those teens are also:

  • Twice as likely to wear seat belts
  • 70% less likely to drink and drive
  • Half as likely to speed
  • 30% less likely to use a cell phone while driving
  • Less likely to drive with multiple passengers

Extensive studies have been able to identify that 75% of crashes among adolescents are due to three critical errors:

  1. Not scanning to detect and respond to hazards (this takes time and experience to understand what to look for and how to respond)
  2. Going too fast for road conditions
  3. Distracted by something inside or outside vehicle (cell phones!) 

 So, what can you do as a parent to help teach your teen to be a safe driver?

  • Parents need to provide teens with at least 50+ hours of supervised practice in a wide variety of conditions. Take them out in the rain, dark, storms, ice/snow, etc. The more they learn to to detect and respond to hazards and manage their speed, the better. True story: I learned to drive a stick shift, and my dad would take me to the biggest hill he could find and make me stop. It made me so angry as a teenager, but I guarantee you I could parallel park a stick shift car in San Francisco if I had to now!
  • Make special trips just to practice driving, rather than just trying to fit it into daily activities. Schedule it into your calendar and stay consistent. Avoid talking to your teen about other issues while driving (though they may seem like a captive audience, they should focus only on the task at hand).
  • Make rules. Increase privileges as time goes on. Consider not allowing friends in the car at first, as they can significantly increase distraction of the driver. Males who drive with friends are 6 times more likely to perform an illegal maneuver and twice as likely to drive aggressively before a crash.
  • Emphasize importance of not texting or emailing while driving and limiting electronic use in general (1/3 of teens admit to texting/emailing while driving). There are apps to prevent sending/receiving texts while the car is moving…a great option if needed!
  • Reconsider buying a new car for your teen’s 16th birthday. For at least the first year after licensure, it’s best to share, not own, a car.

Check out CHOP’s for more information (all above statistics are from this site). Dr. Durbin and his team have done a tremendous job gathering this data and helping to educate everyone on how to educate teens on driving in the best way possible. For those in North Carolina, also check out the process to obtaining a driver’s license (it’s different in every state).

Safe travels, everyone!

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