Keeping Teens (and Their Friends) Safe On The Road

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This week yet another sobering headline: “Study Reveals Deadliest Driving Risks of Youth.” And once again I shutter, and then I cry. I've had five close friends over the last ten years lose their beautiful teen sons in driving fatalities. All were the most loving of parents, all the boys were wonderful, glorious, and good, and each parent would have read this prior to the worst day of their life, and said, “Not my kid.”

But the stark reality is such a tragedy could happen to your child. Nearly 10,000 youths have died as passengers in car crashes. Of those crashes, 54% were riding with a teen driver. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for tweens and teens. So please read this carefully and take this very seriously. Knowing the risks just may save your child or their friend.

Here are study highlights found by Dr. Flaua Koplin Winston from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia revealing the most dangerous driving circumstances for youth:

  • Driving with inexperienced (less than a year driver) on high-speed roads (more than three-quarters of the fatal crashes occurred on roads with speed limits higher than 45 mph)
  • Driving without a seatbelt: nearly two-thirds of youth passengers were not wearing seat belts

Driving with a male teen driver who had been drinking and on weekends: 72% of crashes happened between 6 am to 10 pm. Here are a few Dos and Don'ts that just may keep your teen safer:

  • Do NOT let your child drive with a teen with less than a year's driving experience. The risk is too great.
  • Do NOT let your inexperienced teen drive over 40 mph.
  • Do NOT let your child get into a car without wearing a seat belt. Make sure you mandate wearing them in your own car. And talk, talk, talk about the life-saving feature of wearing those belts.
  • DO NOT let your kid use that darn cell phone when driving. Figure out a way that he doesn't have to go switching channels on his Ipod when driving.
  • DO teach your child how to bulk peer pressure. A study by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America of over 46,000 teens revealed that peer pressure is one of the biggest issues they face and that “Just say no stuff” does not work. Teens want you to teach them specific things they can do and say to counter that peer pressure.
  • DO give your child (and each of his friends) a card with phone numbers of taxicab services to call. Put emergency cab fare money (like fifty dollars) in a drawer and tell your child it is “Just in case you ever need a taxi cab.” Make sure your kid has a safe way home in case of drinking or sleep deprivation. Driving home late and sleepy killed two of my friends' sons. They were not drinking.
  • DO tell your child that if he ever abuses your car rules those keys will be removed. One of my girlfriend's sons lost the car privilege for a year (and learned his lesson); another hid her son's car in another friend's garage to ensure her child could access it. Yes Mom!
  • DO have your teen sign a contract specifying that passengers must wear seat belts, which roads he may drive on, speed limits he must adhere to and of course never drink. Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) www.saddonline.com is an organization you may want to connect with. If also provides a free online contract you can download.
  • DO get on board with other parents. Introduce yourself. Exchange phone numbers. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a great organization that mobilizes parents.
  • DO set up a secret code in your family. In our house if one of my sons ever called any time and said, “Mom, I think I'm getting the flu” it was my signal to drop everything and go pick up my child. It meant he was in a tough situation and needed a “rescue.” Turns out he was at a party that was supposed to be supervised by parents who decided to be “cool” and supply kegs while they left the kids. Those parents should have been arrested, but I was so glad we had that secret code. I also have a pack with my girlfriend that if she's not available I will pick up her kids, and she mine. We've only had to do so once and we still are so grateful we had that pact.
  • DO carefully think through if your child really is ready to drive at age sixteen. Every study shows that most kids that age are not mature enough to get behind that wheel. Remember this isn't about your convenience, but your child's life.


What else are you doing to keep your teen safe? I'd love to hear from you! Leave a comment below.



Borba_BuildingMoral_136.jpgDr. Michele Borba is the author of Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essentail Virtues That Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing.

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