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Parents: What you can do to protect your teen drivers

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Car crashes are the No. 1 killer of U.S. teens. In fact, the fatal crash rate per mile driven for 16- to 17-year-olds is nearly three times the rate for drivers age 20 and older, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. 

To help address this problem and highlight the continued challenges, Oct. 21 to 27 has been designated Teen Driver Safety Week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA figures show that 1,908 drivers 15 to 20 years old died in motor vehicle crashes in 2016, the most recent year that data is available. This marks a 2.1 percent increase over 2015.

Having a new driver can be one of the most nerve-racking and worrisome times for a parent, especially if you know those facts. Graduated licensing programs (GDL) in many states have helped take some of the pressure off parents.

GDL programs set strict driving rules, requiring certain levels of education, minimum hours of driving experience (some with parents along), restrictions on driving hours, and limits on the number of passengers a new driver can take along. But those restrictions eventually expire, typically around age 18 or once a young driver has had a license for a specified period of time.

There are some important steps parents can take in conjunction with their state’s GDL restrictions to help young drivers get as much good driving experience while remaining as safe as possible.

Parents Must Lead by Example

Despite the perception that our teenagers and young drivers profess to know everything, they’re still watching and learning from how their parents behave. The example you set for them behind the wheel may be the most important in terms of actually keeping them safe, more so than any other safety message you’ve given them in their entire life. So make it count. 

Whether your teen is driving, or you are, be sure to:

  • Buckle up: Despite seat-belt laws in many states, teenagers have some of the lowest rates of seat-belt use, especially when they’re passengers. Be sure you buckle up yourself and make sure they do as well.
  • Put down the phone: Adults often find that the quiet of the car is a tempting time to make or answer calls when they're driving. Avoid that temptation, not only because of the risk it presents but also because of the message it sends to your young driver. Set the example by having your teen send a text or make a call for you.
  • Slow down: Speed is a contributing factor in almost one-third of the motor-vehicle fatalities in 2016, according to recently released fatality numbers. Young drivers don’t yet have a good gauge of how fast is too fast, so driving slower than you normally would is safer for both of you.
  • Don’t drink and drive: Be especially aware of the message you're sending your teen when you’re driving after having a glass or two of wine at a dinner party. Stress the importance of designating a driver, and let your teens listen in on the discussions you have with other adults about the issue.
  • Consider your own driving contract: Writing down a set of rules—and perhaps more important, the consequences they'll face if they violate them—makes it clear what your expectations are.

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