Seven of the 10 deadliest days of the year for teens fall between those holidays with July and August being the deadliest months for 16- and 17-year-old drivers.
Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for young Americans. For young drivers, May marks the beginning of the season of high peril. It’s prom and graduation time when many teenage drivers ask for and receive expanded driving privileges. And it’s the cusp of summer vacation, when the stakes are extremely high for young drivers.
This year, the deadly season for young drivers rolls around at a time when there is growing research by the AAA Foundation that young drivers who engage less frequently in risky driving behavior are those who spend the most time talking about driving with their parents. The research also shows that more needs to be done to encourage those talks on safety.
”The research and our experience tells us that the earlier we can get parents engaged in this dialogue and the longer we can keep them engaged, the more likely their teens will be safer drivers,” says Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “But we live in an age where time seems to be at a premium. I’m sure a lot of parents find it difficult to allocate the amount of time to talk with their son or daughter that we would consider ideal.”
He and other experts say there is no better time than this month for parents and teen drivers to talk about driving safely. Parents’ involvement and influence in the teen driving experience can mean the difference between life and death.
It’s not so much a single conversation as a series of conversations, experts say, and it should begin sooner than many think. Start talking about driving when your child starts sitting in the front seat. They immediately gain a much better awareness about driving. Narrate some of what you’re seeing so they can begin to see it too.
Before parents can have a meaningful discussion about driving safely, they should educate themselves about the realities of teen driving. For example, many parents think drunk driving is the main threat to teen drivers, when in fact, driver error, speeding, and distractions are bigger problems.
Lack of parental involvement can be painfully expensive and the pain of loss lasts a lifetime. Have rules and make a written contract about what is allowed and expected and what isn’t. Make sure your rules follow your state’s licensing laws. For instance, the maximum number of passengers and curfews. Review the rules. Talk about them regularly. These conversations have enormous impact.
Perhaps most important, experts say, is that parents model the behavior they’re trying to instill. Several studies have shown that many parents take a “do as I say, not as I do” approach with their teen drivers. They acknowledge that behavior such as talking on cellphones, fiddling with the radio, or even breaking the law is dangerous; but large percentages admit to doing these things while their children are in the car.
In an April AT&T survey of 1,200 teens ages 15-19, 77% said adults tell kids not to text or e-mail while driving, yet 41% reported seeing a parent text while driving. The good news: sixty-two percent of teens in the survey said that getting reminders from their parents not to text and drive would be effective in stopping them from doing it.