Prom night can be one of the most wonderful times in a high school student's life; it can also be one of most stressful...for everyone involved.

Teenage driving and the excesses of prom night can be difficult to discuss, yet is too important to be avoided.

Insurance studies show that reckless driving and teen fatalities go hand in hand. With all the safety features, such as seatbelts and airbags that come standard in cars, teen driver death rates remain disproportionally high compared to the rest of the population.

No parent wants to get that phone call or knock on the door at night telling them that their child has died in an accident. Whether their child was the driver or passenger, it rarely matters: a young life has ended.

Data from The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reflect a few "sobering" facts.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for American teenagers.

Two thirds of those killed were not buckled up.

Sixty-five percent of teen passenger deaths occur when another teenager is driving. Two out of three teenagers killed in motor vehicle crashes are males.

In 2001, 26 percent of fatally injured teen drivers (16 to 20 years old) had high blood alcohol concentrations (0.08 percent or more), even though all were under the minimum legal drinking age and not legally permitted to purchase alcohol.

"With proms and graduation just around the corner, now is the perfect time to talk to teen drivers about life-threatening risks: driving irresponsibly, improper driving practices, exceeding the posted speed limit or just plain driving at an unsafe speed," said Jenelle L. Ferguson, APG Installation Safety Office.

Most common driving errors of teenagers are:
Distraction caused by passengers
Drivers influenced by peers to risk-taking behaviors
Teen drivers overestimate their driving ability - excessive speed, can't handle the road
A need to show-off behind the wheel for passengers
Alcohol and other drug use impact attention and decision-making

"Prior planning and discussions are every bit as important as actual prom night rules," said Cindy Scott, prevention coordinator for the Aberdeen Proving Ground Army Substance Abuse Program. "These prom safety tips can help you create a safer and more worry-free event," Scott said.

Plan ahead
Participate in the teenager's prom preparations. It can serve as an opportunity to start discussing prom details, such as whether there will be a post-prom party, who will be driving, and so on.

Before the prom, set aside time to talk with the teenager about the prom and about safety.

Talking to the teen ahead of time helps avoid conflicts on prom night.

Discuss limits and guidelines; clarify the rules for the evening.

Speak with the teen about expected behavior around alcohol and drugs. Parents should state their views clearly. Remind the teen that underage drinking is illegal, and that possession of drugs is illegal. Include prescription and over-the-counter medicines as well as inhalants. All of these drugs are abused by some teenagers.

Be sure the teenager has safe transportation for the entire evening. It's best if all of these arrangements are ironed out ahead of time.

Stress that under no circumstances should the teen get into a car with a driver who has been drinking or using drugs. Discuss what they will do if the driver has been drinking or using drugs.
Revisit past discussions about sex and risky behaviors. The prom is a good time to talk again with the teenager about risky behaviors like drinking, taking drugs, sex and unsupervised parties.

Remind the teen to call home for help.

Talk with the teen about peer pressure. Many teenagers view the prom as a night without boundaries -- a perception that can lead to unsafe behavior. Remind the teen that it's important to say no to his friends if he feels what they are doing is wrong.

Parents should know the teen's date or the friends the teen will be with for the evening. Invite the friends over beforehand. Taking pictures is a good way to share in the teenager's excitement.
Consider holding a post-prom party at home. Ask the teen how they would feel about hosting a party. Or offer to get together with a group of parents and host a party jointly.

Have a discussion with the teen about prom expenses and who will pay for what. It's best to work out the details well ahead of time about who will pay for clothing, shoes, flowers, dining out, limousine rental or cab fees.

On prom night
On the night of the prom, review the specifics of where the teen will be for the entire evening. If the teen plans on attending a party before or after the prom, get the address and phone numbers of the Families hosting the parties. Parents may want to contact them to say hello, confirm the particulars of the party and offer assistance.

Remind the teen to call home if there is any change in plans. This includes even small changes, such as picking up an additional friend on the way to the post prom party.

Text a "Safe Prom" message to the teenager's cell phone.

If the teen plans on sleeping at a friend's house, contact the friend's parents to confirm the arrangements. Some parents may want the teenager to call home once they arrive at their friend's house.

Be available on prom night. Let the teen know that if they run into trouble their parents will pick them up, regardless of the time. If parents cannot be available, try to find a friend or relative who can provide transportation if needed. If this is not an option, urge the teen to call a cab, and be sure the teen has cab fare.

Try to stay awake until the teen returns home from the prom. This way, parents will be available in case there's a change in plans, or in case the teen needs last minute transportation.

"Prom night should be a night to remember, not a night to regret. Together, we can empower our children to make safe and healthy choices," Scott said.

For more information, contact Scott, 410-278-4013, or e-mail Cynthia.Scott1@us.army.mil or Ferguson, 410-306-1088 or e-mail janelle.l.ferguson@us.army.mil.

Page last updated Mon May 25th, 2009 at 12:47