WASHINGTON, November 4, 2012 – The teenage years: experimentation, encountering the opposite sex, rebellion, peer-group pressure, and, driving.
As parents we wish we could shackle our children so they cannot roam beyond the refrigerator and never go out, all of course, to keep them safe.
At the end of this article I have provided a “New Driver Contract” which I hope you will use, and which I hope will be part of a comprehensive plan you adopt in your family to keep your children, and others safe.
You have heard the statistics. I have accumulated the following from the National Transportation Safety Administration and other sources, as of 2011. Here are some of the “better” ones if you need to be shocked into doing something more than simply handing keys to your new teen driver:
- Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among American teenagers, killing between 5,000 and 6,000 teenagers every year.
- No other kind of hazard comes close to claiming as many teenage lives, including homicides and suicides.
- Drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are four times more likely to die in a crash than drivers between the ages of 25 and 69.
- Teens have the highest chance of having a fatal crash within the first six months of getting their driver’s license.
- Teen drivers are 10 times more likely to be involved in a crash during their first year of driving.
- Males are twice as likely as females to be killed in a crash while they’re teenagers.
- 37% of male drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 were speeding at the time of a fatal crash.
- 55% of teens killed in car crashes were not using their seat belts.
- 31% of teen drivers were drinking alcohol at the time of their death.
- Teen drivers were involved in 63% of teen passenger deaths and 19% of passenger deaths of all ages in fatal accidents.
- 53% of teen deaths in fatal accidents occurred on the weekends and 41% occurred between 9:00 PM and 6:00 AM.
- Talking on a cell telephone doubles the likelihood of an accident and can slow a young driver’s reaction time to that of a 70-year-old.
- Texting on a cell telephone is more dangerous than talking on it.
Why is a teenager getting into a car such a problem?
Our children as teenagers do not have fully developed minds, reaction times, nor do they possess the ability to make intelligent decisions. They cannot fully see the “big picture” and thus they will take unnecessary risks, they will drink and drive, they will overload the car with friends, they ignore seat belts, and they think they are invincible.
Tell me honestly that your teenager doesn’t believe that he or she is invincible and nothing bad will ever happen. After all, the powers-that-be gave them the privilege of driving. Unfortunately, this privilege was bestowed before their little cerebral cortexes (the brain’s logic center) fully developed.
We are partly responsible for the problem of teenage driving. We fail them. We fail to educate ourselves about them, or we fail to acknowledge who they are and actively take steps to intervene; we fail to recognize their habits, their abilities, and we fail to understand that their driver’s education is only the very beginning of understanding how to operate a car under a myriad of circumstances.
We fail to recognize that our children need more sleep, and thus they stay up too late and rise too early.
Most things in life require repetition to become skilled. Driving is not different. Teenage drivers, certainly not after 40 or 50 or even 100 hours of driver’s education class, have not driven enough to master even basic vehicle handling skills or the safe-driving knowledge needed to drive safely. Accordingly, their driving should be limited and should be increased as time goes by. If state laws do not follow this direction, you as the parent should be the enforcer.
Teens have poor hazard detection skills. Detecting hazards while driving depends upon perceptual and information-gathering skills and involves properly identifying stimuli as potential threats. It takes time for young drivers to acquire this ability.
Perceiving risk means subjectively assessing the degree of threat posed by a hazard and one’s ability to deal with the threat. Teen drivers tend to under-estimate the crash risk in hazardous situations and over-estimate their ability to avoid the threats they identify.
Teenagers take more risks while driving in part because they are over-confident in their driving abilities. Teen drivers are more likely to engage in risky behaviors like speeding, tailgating, running red lights, violating traffic signs and signals, making illegal turns, passing dangerously, and failing to yield to pedestrians.
Hooray for every group that aims to stop others from drinking and driving. Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s message was the first in this regard and remains constant. Excellent. Teenagers who drink and drive are at much greater risk of serious crashes than are older drivers with equal concentrations of alcohol in their blood.
For teenagers, the risk of being in a crash increases when they transport passengers-the fatality risk of drivers aged 16-17 years is 3.6 times higher when they are driving with passengers than when they are driving alone, and the relative risk of a fatal crash increases as the number of passengers increases. Passengers who are also teens may distract the teen drivers and encourage them to take more risks, especially for young males riding with young male drivers.
Teen drivers get into 3 times more crashes after 9:00 PM than during the day. This is because driving at night is more difficult; teens have less experience driving at night than during the day; they are more sleep deprived, and teenage drinking and driving is more likely to occur at night.
What you should do.
You are the single biggest influence on your children.
The best thing you can do is lead by example. Most of us turned off mentally when told what to do; teens today are the same. If you speed, do not buckle up, drink and drive, chat or text on your cell telephone, how can you expect your child to do any better?
If you think your teen does not care about what you are doing (or that they do not even notice), think again.
- 66% of teens say they care what their parents think about cell telephone use while driving.
- 53% of teens say they have seen someone drive while impaired (maybe it was a friend, maybe it was you).
- 56% of teens say they depend on their parents for driving instruction.
Limit the amount of time your teen driver is allowed to drive.
A driver’s license is not a get out of jail pass or a ticket to total freedom and independence. You may be called the “bad” parent, but you can structure your teen’s driving habits to give them time to safely acquire the necessary experience before you turn them loose.
Here are a few ideas that may work for you and your children:
Limit the Scope – Start your new teen driver off by only allowing them to drive within a certain region close to home. As they prove themselves, slowly extend the boundaries.
You are with them – Some parents do not turn their child loose at all immediately after they get their license. Instead, the teen driver must drive the parent everywhere for a certain period of time to “earn” independent driving privileges. Keep in mind that this plan will not win you any popularity contests, but imagine the impact you will make as you gently correct what your teen driver is doing, and then talking intelligently, without criticizing, about how to do better.
Limit the Time – There is nothing wrong with only allowing your teen driver to operate a vehicle by themselves during daylight hours until they have got more driving time under their belt.
Insist Upon Seat Belts – This should not be negotiable.
Restrict Passengers – Some parents only allow their teen driver to have one other passenger in the car for the first six months to a year of driving.
Cell Phone Use – It is a good thing to have a cell telephone in the car in case of an emergency, but the rules must be that your child never, ever talks or texts on the telephone while they are driving, and “driving” includes when they are stopped at a red light. They MUST pull over, out of traffic, and off of the road before calling back.
Alcohol – Make sure your child knows that there is no excuse for drinking and driving. This should include telling them that the penalty for calling for a ride home will always be less than driving home under the influence.
As promised, here is a “contract” you can use as you child reaches the age to drive. Before you read this contract, I want to explain why I have not included anything in it about school grades. I call this the “apples and oranges” myth. School grades and driving have nothing to do with each other. Believing that good grades somehow correlates to good driving behavior is a myth. Getting an “A” in math doesn’t mean the student will drive responsibly. Therefore, I have not included anything about grades in this contract, and I believe it would be wrong to do so. In my opinion, parents should not punish or reward a student with the use of the car, based on school performance. This has nothing to do, mind you, with school attendance. You may want to add a paragraph about that issue if this is a concern.
Feel free to copy this contract and add to or delete from it, as it might best suit your circumstances. Good luck to your child!
NEW DRIVER CONTRACT
I, _______________, exchange the promises below with my parents in consideration for my driving privileges.
I agree never to drive under the influence of ANY drug, including alcohol. I will not allow anyone to consume ANY drug or alcohol while riding in my car. I agree never to let anyone else drive my car. If I violate this provision, my driving privileges will be suspended for one year.
I will not use my cell telephone at any time while the car is in motion. I will not make nor receive telephone calls, and I will not send or look at text messages. If I have to use the telephone for an emergency, I will pull over, off of the road, turn off the ignition and then place my call. If I violate this provision, my driving privileges will be suspended for one month.
I will always wear my seatbelt, and I will require that any passengers in the car wear theirs, at all times. If I violate this provision, my driving privileges will be suspended for one month.
I will pay for my car insurance, gas, and repairs. My parents agree to help out with these expenses to whatever extent they feel reasonable if I drive willingly and cheerfully to do errands, run car pools, etc.
I will help my parents by driving for them whenever I reasonably can.
I will abide by all motor vehicle laws.
If I commit a moving violation, my driving privileges will be suspended for up to a month, depending on the nature of the violation and the circumstances. If I commit a second moving violation, my driving privileges will be suspended for up to six months. I will pay any expenses associated with my violation of any traffic or criminal laws.
I will keep my parents informed of my whereabouts. I will inform them where I intend to go and will only drive to destinations pre-approved by my parents. I will abide by any curfews they set. I will try to tell my parents whom I will be driving with beforehand if possible and will not drive with anyone they have asked me not to drive with. If I violate this provision, my driving privileges will be suspended for at least a month, more if the violation is very serious or if I have violated this paragraph previously.
I will be responsible for keeping my car clean, for filling the gas tank, and for making sure it receives maintenance and repairs as necessary.
I will not have any of my friends or other passengers in my car until my parents deem that my driving experience is sufficient..
If someone on the roadway needs help, I will call emergency #911 for them, and I agree that I will never get out of the car or allow anyone to get in.
I will never pick up a stranger or a hitchhiker.
I will always keep the car doors locked, whether the car is in use or not.
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website. He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics.
His book The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You is free to Maryland and Virginia residents and can be obtained by ordering it on his website; others can obtain it on Amazon.