Encourage Teens to be Safe Drivers

Parents have the important role of teaching teens basic behind-the-wheel rules and strategies.

October is the designated month for the country to focus their attention on teen driving safety. Our goals are to guide parents in taking on the important role of teaching and enforcing basic rules and strategies to get through the first years of driving. While doing so, bringing awareness through education and encouraging teens to be safer drivers is what’s necessary to meet these goals, not only in October but throughout the year.

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death among teens.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2009, about 3,000 teens in the United States were killed and in 2008, over 350,000 were treated in emergency departments for injuries related to motor vehicle crashes (MVC’s).

MVC’s are preventable and we know the causes involving teens. Research has proven that certain behaviors contribute to teen-related crashes:

  • Driver inexperience: Crash rates are highest during the first year a teen has a license.
  • Driving with teen passengers: Crash risk goes up when teens drive with other teens in the car. The risk increases with each additional passenger.
  • Nighttime driving: For all ages, fatal crashes are more likely to occur at night, but the risk is highest for teens.
  • Not wearing seat belts: Compared with other age groups, teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use.
  • Distracted driving:Distracted driving is any non-driving activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her form the primary task of driving and increases the risk of crashing. There are three types: visual – taking your eyes off the road, manual – taking your hands off the wheel, cognitive – taking your mind off what you’re doing. Other distractions include:
    • Using a cell phone

    • Eating and drinking

    • Talking to passengers

    • Grooming

    • Reading, including maps

    • Using a PDA or navigation system

    • Watching a video

    • Changing the radio station, CD, or Mp3 player

Inexperience and immaturity combined with these increase this problem.

Aggressive driving

Unfortunately, most of us have probably been involved in aggressive driving behaviors in the past, whether as a victim or even the aggressor. NHTSA estimates that crashes caused by aggressive driving cost society more than $40 billion per year. In the US alone, an average of 1,500 people are injured or killed each year as a direct result of aggressive driving.

We all know the signs: cutting off other cars, repeated honking, yelling or gesturing at other drivers, lingering in the passing lane. Some things you can do to avoid provoking another driver:

  • Avoid tailgating
  • Ignore rude gestures
  • Don’t block turning lanes
  • Don’t stop in the middle of the road – unnecessarily
  • Allow cars to pass
  • Stay away from erratic drivers

To avoid some of your own aggression, leave earlier to allow for plenty of time. Listen to relaxing music. Take a deep breath if you feel you’re getting flustered. Recognize it’s not personally directed at you if another driver makes a mistake, and keep in mind, you are not in a race. Keep it safe.

Parents – set the standard

Talk to your kids about traffic safety early and often. When your teenager does begin driving, set rules and clearly outline the consequences for breaking them. Be a good role model that practices safe driving habits anytime you drive your kids anywhere.

Spell out the rules:

  • Alcohol: Absolutely No Alcohol
  • Seat belts: Always Buckle Up!
  • Cell phone/texting: No talking or texting while driving
  • Curfew: Have the car in the Driveway by a specific time.
  • Passengers: No more than one at all time
  • Graduated Drivers License: Follow the state’s GDL law
  • Parental Responsibility: Set your house rules and consequences.

As a parent of teen drivers, and having a background in emergency/trauma nursing, I know first hand the importance of enforcing standards when it comes to teenage drivers. Teens lack maturity and experience when it comes to safe driving and per miles driven, they are four times more likely to get into a crash than older drivers. Be vigilant about expectations and review rules and consequences routinely ... don’t wait until a crash has occurred ... it could be too late. Drive happy, avoid distractions and be safe!

Please visit the websites for additional information and resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration


Rhonda M. Thompson, EMT, RN is the Trauma Outreach/Injury Prevention Coordinator for Trauma Services.


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