FORT LEE, Va. – Contrary to popular parental beliefs, wild parties and hanging out with the wrong crowd aren’t the greatest risks to teen safety. The biggest threat, statistically, that has taken more young lives than any irresponsible social behavior is parked just outside the home.
Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death among 15-19-year-olds across the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2020, about 1,150 fledgling drivers were killed and well over 150,000 were taken to emergency rooms for treatment of injuries suffered in auto accidents. In a recent news release, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles reported 42 teen traffic deaths in 2021, with the majority of those fatalities once again attributed to inattentiveness behind the wheel.
When parents are in the vehicle, teen drivers rarely crash. Take mom and dad out of the picture, and incidents happen nine times more often, cites studies conducted by the CDC and other public safety groups. Seat belt usage drops to 60 percent on average.
A large percentage of young motorists with less than one year on the road claim they are “better drivers than their parents,” yet admit they are “guilty of bad habits” like speeding and tailgating. It’s that combination of inexperience and overconfidence that leads to the annual deaths of thousands of teen drivers, their passengers and others on the roadways.
Any teenager can be involved in a crash. Researchers have proven there is no way to predict who is more likely to be a reckless or stellar driver – not grades, involvement in athletics or other extracurricular activities, family affluence, or other means. From a gender standpoint, however, studies have shown male accident deaths have been roughly twice that of females.
Many insurance companies offer tips and programs to help parents get teens through their young driving years safely. One version of the Teen Safe Driver Program uses a video recorder to help parents identify risky driving and coach for improvement before dangerous behaviors lead to vehicle damage, personal injury or worse. Auto insurance providers are a great source of information in this area, and many offer significant discounts to teens who complete their safe driver courses.
Other advice for parents of driving teens includes the following:
• Be a good role model – don’t speed, follow traffic laws and obey road signs, and don’t give in to road rage. Teens may give in to peer pressure, but generally look to parents for guidance and setting the example.
• Talk to the teen and lay out expectations and consequences. Have a face-to-face discussion before the teen begins driving. Parent and teen driver contracts are available at www.cdc.gov/parentsarethekey/agreement, www.safekids.org and several other sites.
• Limit the teen’s use of the car. Most accidents involving teens occur between 3 p.m. - midnight, and on weekends. Teens hold the driver’s license, but parents hold the car keys. Parents may need to chauffeur a little longer until teen drivers have proven they’re responsible.
• Be aware of local driving laws and restrictions. Virginia, for example, has a range of limits that apply to drivers under age 18 including a midnight to 4 a.m. curfew; no cellphones in any circumstance other than an emergency, and the vehicle must be parked; and a limit of one passenger under age 21 in the vehicle unless accompanied by a licensed parent or adult.
To read more about these rules and allowed exceptions, visit www.dmv.virginia.gov/drivers/#restrictions.asp.