Every parent, ready or not, has to face the reality of their child growing into adulthood. In what can feel like no time, a child inches their way towards not only adulthood but independence. They're sent off to school, they start making their own friends, and they might even start thinking they're too cool for mom or dad to be around.
Parents have the difficult task of being equally respectful of their child's unfolding freedom while still paving their path in the right direction.
Maintaining this balance is challenged the most during the seasons of your child's life that require the most letting go. For many parents, resisting being the overprotective parent can be hard when it's time for your child to get behind the wheel.
Teen Car Accident Statistics
If your child is already dismissing your anxiety about their license, the following information can, hopefully, assure you that your worry is within reason. The truth is, teens on the road are historically high-risk drivers:
- In 2018, fatal and nonfatal motor vehicle crash injuries among adolescents (ages 12-19) resulted in approximately $12 billion in medical and work-loss costs.
- Drivers ages 16-20 make up the most significant percentage of distracted drivers.
- 75% of serious accidents involving teens are caused by critical errors: lack of scanning, speeding, and distracted driving.
I don't mention this to further increase your anxiety around the situation, but simply to state that wanting to get involved in your child's safety on the road is not only understandable, but also practical, responsible, and potentially life-saving.
Why Are Teens Involved In So Many Car Accidents?
There are many reasons why every driver is at risk of being involved in a collision. Still, a few teen-specific reasons cause a devastating number of fatalities in young drivers every year. The leading causes of teen car accidents are:
1. Inexperience: A lack of experience doesn't allow a young driver to understand the road instinctively. The absence of muscle memory prompts driving decisions that aren't always the safe choice.
2. Not Using Seatbelts: Unfortunately (and for whatever reason), teens are reluctant to use seatbelts. Not only teen drivers but teen passengers often forgo using them. This results in fatalities that could otherwise be avoided.
3. Distracted Driving: As the world leans more and more into technology, so does our dependence on it. In 2019 alone, distracted driving contributed to 3,142 deaths on the road.
4. Speeding: Not all speeding accidents are caused by intentional recklessness. A lot of the time, teens are disadvantaged by a lack of experience. For example, they might not be used to checking their speed, or they simply might not realize how fast they are going.
5. Substance Abuse: This is an issue with teens that exists on and off the road and increases risk tenfold when combined with driving.
Steps To Teen Driver Safety That Every Parent Can Take
If you're stuck feeling like there aren't any effective safe driving lessons you can enforce to protect your child, you should know that there are options available.
Learn About Your State's GDL Laws
This might be the most important step, and the step that requires the most involvement from you as a parent. A graduated driver's license, or GDL, is the way each state helps new drivers lean into driving on the road. Most states have divided their graduated license system into three parts:
1. Learner's permit
2. Provisional license
3. Full license.
Every state handles its policy for a teen's driving rights differently. If you don't know your state's existing policies, they are accessible publicly on the Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA).
Enforce Your State's GDL Laws
Your role as a parent is to enforce the Graduated Drivers License laws in your state to their fullest extent. The learner's permit stage is going to take trust, investment, and calm correction. By the time they go for their driving test, make sure their permit period includes extensive practice in these areas:
1. Driving at all times of the day.
2. Driving in all weather conditions.
3. Driving in busy and rural areas.
4. Parking in lots and on streets.
5. Wearing a seatbelt and checking that passengers do, too.
6. Putting the cell phone out of reach.
I want to emphasize the provisional license stage, which often includes a curfew and limits the number of passengers in your teen's vehicle, as those rules are commonly bent the most among teens. Keeping your child accountable for those rules can significantly decrease their risk of collision.
Making the first two stages of your teen's GDL as educational as possible will allow them to graduate into a full driver's license with much less risk at hand. Hopefully, you'll feel they are equipped for the road by then and can find some peace with the situation.
Invest In a Reliable Insurance Policy
Car insurance for teens is not only lawfully required, but crucial for your child's safety and protection. While insurance policies for new drivers are among the most expensive, they also decrease in price each year their record is kept clean. My advice is to make them pay for insurance themself.
Having your child pay for their own insurance, teaching that they'll owe less each year if their record is maintained, should hopefully motivate them to accelerate the learning curve, develop responsible driving habits early on, and be accountable to themselves for the sake of their bank account.
Set Up A No-Touch Cell Phone System
Inevitably, your child is going to look at their phone while on the road. Whether it's to answer a call, read a text, or just change the music, self-control around a buzzing phone affects more than just teens.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are two ways to keep phone distractions from tempting your child. These programs allow iPhones and Androids to have limited capabilities while connected to your car, their purpose being to discourage screen time while driving.
Voice text/call allows your child to read and answer texts and calls out loud. Reiterate the importance of this to your teen as often as possible, have them get used to it while you're in the car with them during their permit period, and check in on them frequently about it.
No matter what stage your teen is in on their driving journey, being consistent with lessons, rules, and best practices will help them develop the muscle memory required for the ever-changing road environment. Once these tips are applied and practiced, my hope is that you'll be able to confidently trust your child's driving habits.
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