Fewer teens are getting behind the wheel. That’s a good thing from a public safety standpoint, because it means fewer teens are dying on the roads.
The percentage of U.S. high school seniors with drivers’ licenses fell from 85% to 71% between 1996 and 2015. During that time, the number of teens killed in accidents dropped by more than half, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
But crashes remain the leading cause of death among teens, and young drivers are 4 times more likely to be involved in a crash than adults. So it’s as important as ever to make sure teens are safe, said Heather Trnka, injury prevention coordinator for Akron Children’s Hospital.
There’s more to it than training and testing for a driver’s license. Research shows many new drivers simply aren’t ready to handle the complexities of driving in different, and at times difficult, situations. And they’re at an age where they often lack good judgment – the part of the teen brain responsible for decision-making is not fully developed.
“A close look at their cognitive, social and emotional development suggests readiness to drive is not likely to occur automatically by age 16,” the National Academies of Sciences said in report about preventing teen crashes.
If your teen is eager to drive, it’s best not to send him or her off to pilot a 3,000-pound vehicle with minimal training, Heather said. Here are her recommendations:
- Make the most of the supervised driving practice (Ohio requires 50 hours with a parent or guardian). Often, parents don’t test their kids enough in different conditions and situations.
“Get kids driving in winter weather, let them experience what it’s like driving on wet leaves, what it’s like driving at night,” Heather said. “Teach kids how to merge and how to get up to speed on the highway. We should put our kids in those situations.”
- Create a driving agreement. The agreement requires seat belts and sets limits for passengers, driving hours and destinations; it forbids alcohol, cellphone use, eating while driving and other distracting behaviors. The agreement should spell out consequences – and be signed by a parent or guardian and the child.
“If they break the agreement, if they use a cellphone while driving, they lose privileges for 2 weeks,” she said. “It’s there in writing. They signed it. It takes away the argument.”
- Consider a monitoring device for the car. The devices let you monitor location, speed, braking and such. You can set map boundaries and receive text or email alerts. They cost around $100 plus a monthly data fee.
“It’s another way to supervise driving when they are brand-new drivers,” Heather said. “Then you can say let’s talk about your driving today. It’s like talking about a grade card.”
- Insist that your teen texts you when and where they are going, and again when they arrive (may not be necessary if you have a monitoring device).
- Keep yourself in check when you’re behind the wheel.
“In the months leading up to your teen obtaining their temporary driving permit, remember they are watching,” Heather said.
“Your teen watches you peek at your cellphone while driving. They are watching your speed and your reactions to other drivers. And they are watching you put your seat belt on. As parents we need to model the type of driving you expect from your teen.”