Over the past few months, we have all been horrified by photographs in the media regarding horrific car accidents. Most of those pictures involved teenage drivers who were either driving at excessive speed and/or were under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In each circumstance, at least one person was killed and others were seriously injured.
Most high schools have rather comprehensive driver education programs that students must participate in, if they hope to receive a senior license at the age of seventeen. The state of New York requires each teenage driver to participate in an educational course before they are allowed to take their road test.
On the surface, it seems that all bases are covered in preparing young people to legally operate a motor vehicle. So, why are there so many reckless accidents among the sixteen to twenty-five year old age group?
If we look at this issue more closely, there are a number of concerns that emerge which put teenage drivers at risk. First and foremost, most young people believe they are invincible. Although they have been bombarded with school assembly after school assembly on responsible decision making and responsible teenage driving and socializing, they tend to believe that tragedy is never going to touch their lives!
Probably the greatest impediment around teenage driving is caused unconsciously by parents. Too many parents are not current on the rules and regulations regarding teenage driving with a permit, with a junior license and with a senior license. The motor vehicle department has very clear regulations and restrictions for teenage drivers.
Unfortunately, a growing number of parents are very lax when it comes to holding their teenage drivers accountable. Probably the greatest violation is around the use of the junior license. How often have parents allowed their children with a junior license to run errands after school or after dinner, knowing full well it was a violation of the law?
We live in the suburbs. At best, public transportation is inadequate and not consistently available. So many of the activities our children are engaged in require some form of transportation, if they hope to participate. For many of us who work long hours and do two jobs, it becomes easy to allow our teenage drivers with junior licenses to pitch in and help us out by running local errands.
However, it rarely ever stops with local errands. Our teenager often feels an entitlement to use the car at night for social purposes, especially if he or she helped you out during the day. When you remind them that their requests are a violation of motor vehicle law, they then remind you that you are living by a double standard. Too often, we feel trapped and worn out. So, we give in and the danger begins!
What is more troubling is that a growing number of parents see nothing wrong with teenage drivers disregarding the regulations regarding junior licenses. When a teenage driver is caught driving illegally, these parents make excuses. Thus, they are giving their son or daughter a very mixed message about respect and compliance to the law.
The other pragmatic problem is that we are inconsistent in holding teenage drivers accountable for their poor decision making and reckless driving. If students really believed that they would lose their senior driving privileges if they broke the law while driving with a junior license, I contend that more students would think before acting recklessly or irresponsibly.
Recently, I had a conversation with a group of parents whose children just obtained their senior drivers' licenses. Each parent expressed concern about their son or daughter being on the road, especially at night, with little or no experience. We talked about what they could do to relieve their anxiety and support one another.
The issue that probably was the greatest concern was that of a curfew. As they talked about the curfew, they realized that if there was a common curfew that they all supported, conflict within their homes would be substantially reduced. They debated for awhile about the time on a weekend night. After extensive conversation, they compromised with 12 midnight. All of these parents agreed that they would support each other, hold to the curfew and communicate with each other on an on-going basis.
If we are going to be effective in protecting our young people from making poor choices, we, as parents, have to present a united front. We need to support one another with reasonable guidelines, even if our children are not always in agreement with them. This particular group of parents was in total agreement and felt a great sense of relief that other parents felt as they did.
Teenage driving will continue to be a challenge for the teenage driver and his/her parents. We can make the stress around this issue less by continuing an on-going conversation between parents and their children who drive.
Some things to consider: Risk taking! Most young people take uncalculated risks. Fact: car crashes are the leading cause of injury and death for people ages fifteen to twenty. And, it's not just about you - the teenage driver. Crashes affect pedestrians, passengers, other drivers and their families as well. If someone dies because of your reckless risk taking, you will have to live with that for the rest of your life.
Driving safety is imperative. Always wear a seatbelt and insist that all your passengers do the same. Statistics tell us about two thirds of teens killed in vehicle crashes were not wearing their seatbelts. Research indicates that wearing a seatbelt reduces the chance of being hurt or killed in a car crash by 45%.
As parents, we need to talk to our teenagers about speed. We need to remind them to stick to the speed limit. One third of teen fatalities on the road involve speeding. Obeying the speed limit reduces the severity of the crash you can't avoid.
Oftentimes, a new teenage driver wants to load up his or her car with friends. Statistical research indicates that adding one teen passenger to a vehicle increases a sixteen or seventeen year old driver's crash risk by 50%. With two or more passengers, the crash risk increases fivefold. The other issue at hand is that too often teen passengers are rowdy, loud and disrespectful, especially to passing cars.
The new challenge for teen drivers is dealing with modern technology while driving. Focus on driving. Do not be tempted to use your cell phone, engage in texting or play with other gadgets while in motion, save that for when your driving is done. Don't play with your CD player, adjust your radio or engage in channel surfing. All those distractions can contribute to an accident that could be avoided.
Stay sober. Don't drink and drive, even if you feel okay. DUI statistics indicate that of all sixteen and seventeen year old drivers killed in crashes, one of six would have been considered legally intoxicated by adult standards. Make positive choices and don't be afraid to speak up when you're out with your friends. Before you get into a car with a friend, be sure that you can trust that person. Make sure he or she is in the right frame of mind to drive safely. Be prepared to speak up, if your friend drives recklessly and irresponsibly.
Finally, as parents we need to be mindful that our teenage drivers are inexperienced. Oftentimes, because they are young, they tend to be overconfident. This overconfidence can lead to car crashes when the driver encounters unfamiliar or unexpected situations. Hopefully, if we keep the conversation open and on-going, we can protect our young new drivers from acting recklessly and irresponsibly.