Parents, Beware: Come Summer, Teen Driving Is Risky Business
Accidents go up as vigilance goes down. Learn how to put the brakes on dangerous behavior
Around the time school’s out for summer, the risk that a teenager with a driver’s license will wind up in an accident increases. According to AAA, 7 of the 10 deadliest days of the year for teen drivers occur between the Memorial Day and Labor Day holiday weekends.
“Over the course of the summer, nearly 800 teens die in traffic crashes, more than at any other time of the year,” says Barbara Ward, traffic safety specialist at AAA Northeast. In fact, car-related injuries and fatalities are also the leading cause of death for kids ages 15 through 19.
The majority of victims in car crashes involving teens are passengers, drivers of other cars, bikers and pedestrians. The latest AAA Foundation Study report (from 2013) found that close to 400,000 people were injured and nearly 3,000 were killed in accidents in which a teen was behind the wheel.
What’s summer got to do with it?
One reason teen drivers are at greater risk of being in a car accident in summer is simply because they drive more than during the school year. But other factors come into play. These include multiple passengers, distractions such as texting, driving while drinking or drowsy, late-night driving, traveling in new places and on unfamiliar road conditions and pressure from friends to take risks.
“Secondary task engagement is one of the main causes of accidents,” says Bruce Simons-Morton, EdD, associate director for prevention at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHHD). “This can be any activity that takes the driver’s eyes off the road, including using an electronic device, dealing with passengers and focusing on objects or people, especially other teens, outside the car or on the side of the road.”
In reality, no one can do two things at once behind the wheel and do them both well, says Simons-Morton. “Drivers simply change their attention quickly from one task to the another.” Teens are not as good as adults at such behaviors, research shows. In test track studies, teens took their eyes off the road for longer periods than experienced adult drivers when given a cell phone task.
Campaigns aimed at discouraging teens from texting while behind the wheel seem to be making headway — but teens often engage in other activities that are just as dangerous. According to an Oregon State University survey, 27 percent of adolescent drivers reported changing their clothes or shoes while driving. Others own up to applying makeup, putting in contacts lenses and even doing homework.
How parents can help keep teenage drivers safe
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) urges parents of teens to follow and reinforce the points in their 5 to Drive Teen Safety campaign: No cell phones, no extra passengers, no speeding, no alcohol and always use seatbelts.
Here are other tips from AAA and the NICHHD to keep your teenage driver safe this summer:
Nix joyrides. AAA recommends eliminating trips without a purpose. Teens have three times as many fatal crashes as adults and the risk is highest during their first year behind the wheel. That said, teens do need to hone their road skills, so make time to supervise your teen’s driving by giving her a chance to practice challenging situations while you’re in the car.
Restrict nighttime driving. A teen’s chance of a crash doubles at night, so don’t allow her to drive between 9 p.m. and midnight. Warn teens not to drive on risky roads or during bad weather.
Set consequences. Crashes are often caused by reckless behavior. Make very clear to your teen that penalties will result if she’s involved in a fender bender. Lay out your expectations ahead of time, including her curfew and the fact that she must tell you exactly where she’s planning to go each time she gets behind the wheel.
Make a pact. Consider creating a parent-teen driving agreement that details your family’s rules. AAA has a sample version with suggestions that your teen call if she’ll be late, if her plans change or if she can’t get home safely. Other stipulations include not driving aggressively (speeding, tailgating, cutting others off) and not driving when tired, angry or upset.
Be a wise driver yourself. A recent study by Liberty Mutual and Students Against Destructive Decisions found that parents are setting a poor example for teens by engaging in unsafe driving practices. Forty-one percent of teens in the study said their parents continue dangerous driving practices even after their kids ask them to stop, and 28 percent of teens claimed their parents justified their unsafe behavior.