One of the quintessential rites of passage for American girls and boys is getting a license to drive. It amounts to a new freedom that makes teenagers feel like they’re on top of the world.
With this new freedom comes great responsibility. Unfortunately, teenagers are at a high risk for being involved in automobile accidents, and have been for decades. It makes perfect sense, as they simply don’t yet have the experience necessary to be skilled drivers. However, there are certain measures that can be taken to increase their chances of safety on the road.
As a parent or guardian, you have the unique opportunity to set a good example for your teen driver. Remember, they look up to you and will pick up on your driving habits, good or bad, years before they are able to get their license. Not only must you verbally teach them how to drive, you must lead by example.
Texting Can Wait
In an age where nearly all teens have cell phones and where texting is an activity analogous to breathing for for a teen, it cannot be stated enough: texting while driving is deadly.
New data shows the leading cause of death among teenagers is texting while driving. Shockingly, more teens die while texting and driving than while drinking and driving according to a study by Cohen Children’s Medical Center.
The combination of inexperience behind the wheel of a car and the distraction caused by texting, or friends texting and being distracting, is a recipe for disaster. Parents must warn their newly licensed children that texting can and must wait. In addition, parents must set an example for their new drivers by not texting while they themselves are driving. Not only is it extremely dangerous, it is also illegal in many states.
When teens are driving, their phones should be put away or turned off. Reading texts are not okay either. With more than 50% of teens admitting to texting while driving and over 3,000 teens dying per year because of texting and driving, this is a serious problem. There are plenty of variables that are unpreventable while driving, but texting is not one of these.
Summary: Texting can wait.
Texting is not the only distraction teens face while driving. There are plenty that have been around long before cell phones became a part of our lives. Nearly 1,200 Americans are injured every day in automobile accidents that are reported to involve a distracted driver. These accidents can be prevented.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are three main types of distraction while driving:
Visual — Distractions that involve taking one’s eyes off the road.
Manual — Taking one’s hands off the wheel.
Cognitive — Taking one’s mind off the task of driving.
When it comes to teens, these distractions are obvious, yet they happen on a regular basis. Teenagers often drive with cars full of friends. Clearly, trips like these are full of potential distractions. Whether the driver is looking at a friend in the passenger seat or looking at their friends in the back seat, the driver’s eyes are not on the road. Teen drivers must stay focused.
In days past, teen drivers would change radio stations or switch CDs. Now, most of them are changing songs on their phone.
“But I wasn’t texting!”
No, you were just looking at your phone and touching the screen in a different manner while your eyes were not on the road. Same thing. Teens must understand this fact. Changing music while driving is no less dangerous than texting. Tell your teen driver to make a playlist that will last the length of their trip. Chances are, they are going to school, a store or a friend’s house and the trip is short enough for a simple playlist.
Eating while driving is another potential hazard for teen drivers. This can result in a distraction that falls under all three categories — visual, manual and cognitive. If mom or dad eats while driving, you can be sure their child will pick up on the bad habit. Whereas mom or dad has the experience (hopefully) to not have an accident while eating and driving, the skills of a teenage driver can result in a much worse outcome. Set a good example for your teen and teach them never to eat while driving.
Don’t Skip the Basics
By the time a child is ready to get their driver’s license, most likely they’ve been a passenger thousands of times. But kids don’t really pay that much attention to the specifics until they have to. When a teenager begins learning how to drive, everything is new. This is a crucial opportunity to learn safe driving habits and procedures.
As a parent, you mustn’t let your bad habits influence your child. You know how you almost come to a complete stop at stop signs? You know how you use your turn signal most of the time?
Remember that kids learn by example, so follow the rules and laws yourself as you drive. Driving is a serious privilege and teenagers need all they help they can get.
New drivers need to obey the law all the time. They must learn to come to a complete stop at all stop signs. They need to use their turn signal every time they turn or change lanes. Teach them how to use rearview mirrors correctly and how to check their blind spots. Being aware of their surroundings and the drivers around them, especially while driving at higher speeds on highways, can prepare them for times when something unexpected occurs.
Driving a motor vehicle is a serious responsibility. Teenage drivers are more prone to accidents simply because they lack the skills and experience of more seasoned drivers. It’s a matter of life and death and should be treated accordingly.
Teach them not to text while driving and then remind them a few thousand times. Help them minimize driving distractions by teaching them what not to do while driving.