Back-Seat Parenting For Teen Drivers

October 6, 2007 at 12:55 pm Leave a comment

Teens are at higher risk than other drivers that is. And parents know that by heart.

Car crashes are the single biggest killer of teenagers. In 2005, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a total of 5,334 drivers aged 16 to 19 were involved in fatal crashes – the death toll included 2,330 of these drivers and 963 teenage passengers.

Patty Tucker told The New York Times her share of the pie…

Patty’s 2 oldest children had crashes as new drivers. One of the accidents involving her daughter, Sarah, occurred at night, with a teenage passenger. In her son Joshua’s first crash, he was driving his Mustang. “It was his dream car” said Patty, who lives in Phoenix. “We were advised not to get it, but we didn’t listen.” During a second crash, Joshua was talking on a cell phone. No one involved in the Tucker crashes was seriously hurt, but their cases highlight causes common in many teenage crashes: youth and inexperience.

“It’s a potentially lethal combination” noted Bella Dinh-Zarr, the North American director of Make Roads Safe, a nonprofit organization based in London. According to some studies, Dr. Dinh-Zarr said, teenage drivers tend to wear seat belts less than drivers in other age groups.

“The one thing that should come through loud and clear is that this is an extremely complex undertaking,” said Robert D. Foss, the director of the Center for the Study of Young Drivers, Highway Safety Research Center, at the University of North Carolina. “Learning to handle the car is pretty simple and straightforward; learning to be a wise or savvy driver involves far more than that.”

What a teens drive is also essential. “It’s commonly overlooked, but size does matter,” he said. Teenagers often drive older and smaller cars, but it should be the opposite: “big and boring,” and with modern safety features. A survey released in June by the insurance institute found that most parents understood some of the important criteria for choosing safe cars, but often selected ones with inferior protection.

Experts added parents should not depend solely on driver’s education. “Driver’s ed is not a safety program; it’s a licensing program,” said Bruce Simons-Morton, the chief of the Prevention Research Branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “Safety requires a lot more than that.”

Like most complex skills, good driving develops gradually. Learning the rules and being skilled is not enough, practice is a must. “You avoid crashes by avoiding emergency situations to begin with,” Dr. Foss said. “Experienced drivers don’t consciously check rearview mirrors, but rely on their intuition. The key is to get the novice driver to think like that.”

Experts share the following recommendations to parents:

1. Delay licensure as long as possible. The longer you can keep your child from driving alone, the better.

2. Don’t let your children have their own cars. Shared vehicles are a lot safer; parents lose control if a teenager has exclusive use of a vehicle.

3. Set limits for the first six months of driving while the teen gains experience: no night driving, teenage passengers, high-speed roads or cell phones.

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