It’s funny that I often find myself reading articles in the newspaper or online, or even watching a TV segment, only to find that an “issue” that I have thought was important for years is “newsworthy” again. The most recent example being on the topic of teenage drivers and the importance of parental involvement.
I feel like it was not too long ago that I was talking to my own sons about driving….and at that time Texas did not have a lot of rules around getting your driver’s license, besides being 16 an enrolled in school. (thankfully the laws in Texas have changed since then). So after much discussion about the perils of teenage driving and knowing that the death rate due to an automobile accident topped the list for teens, my husband and I came up with a driving contract (which I have shared with too many to count), which clearly outlined the rules and expectations for our sons when they began to drive. I can also remember the oldest looking at the 3 page typed contract and announcing, “ I am not going to sign that!”. If I remember correctly my husband’s calm reply was, “OK - then don’t drive”. He is a man of few words..but very convincing.
Fortunately for us, all of our sons did sign the contract, knew the consequences and started off driving our family Suburban…and never had a serious accident (so many prayers as they pulled out of the driveway). One son did back into a fence, and another hit a car in a parking lot….but I felt fortunate that that was the extent of their accident history.
According to a recent article in the NY Times there is a time to be a helicopter parent, and that is when your “child” begins to drive. “In 2013, just under a million teenage drivers were involved in police reported crashes, which resulted in 373,645 injuries and 2,927 deaths”. These statistics are probably under-reported, and it is estimated that “one in four teens are going to be in a crash in their first six months of driving,” and one would hope that these would be minor “fender benders”, which as we told our sons, do count as an accident.
The biggest risk for a new teenage driver occurs when you add passengers to the car. According to Dr. Nicole Morris at the University of Minnesota “adding one non family passenger to a teenager’s car increased the rate of crashes by 44%, and that risk doubles with a second passenger and quadruples with 3 or more”. If your teen is not distracted by their passengers they are likely to be using their phones to stay in touch with their friends….either by text, talking or by checking their various social media sites….all while driving. Although teens state, “ I barely take my eyes off the road”, anything more than 2 seconds can be deadly. Better to turn off the phone and all notifications before your teen hits the road.
Teens should be reminded that driving is a privilege, and parents of teenage drivers need to have ongoing discussions surrounding expectations for obtaining the privilege of driving. Parents need to be knowledgable about teenage driving and their states’ laws - and enforce those, (too many parents of my patients seem to ignore some of the laws - such as limiting passengers in the car). Even if your state does not have laws regulating a step wise progression to full driving privileges (so called graduated driver’s licenses), parents may adopt their own to help ensure their teens safety. Earning more and more independence can be proven with time and a good driving record and the adage, “nothing good happens after midnight still stands”.
If ever there is a time to be a hovering involved parent it when your child begins to drive - it has been proven to save lives.