The leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States is an automobile crash.
Every year motor vehicle crashes take the lives of over 4,000 teenagers nationwide, which is about 11 teen deaths every day. Parents of teen drivers should educate their children and explain they can reduce the risks of harm by following some basic safety rules. Talk to your teenager about driving safely with these helpful tips:
1. Don’t speed.
The faster you are going, the longer it will take to come to a stop if you encounter any unexpected dangers while driving. Generally the longer you have been driving, the better your instincts and reaction time. Teenage drivers do not have the experience to be able to recognize potential risks the way older, more experienced drivers do.
But safety is often not the primary concern of teenage drivers; they tend to think they are invulnerable. Oftentimes the best way to get them to slow down is to talk about (1) the financial effects of a speeding ticket, and (2) how little you gain by speeding.
It has been estimated that a single speeding ticket for a teenage driver can result in over $3,000 in increased auto insurance premiums and loss of safe driver discounts over the three years it remains on their record, not to mention the fines and court costs for the violation itself and the possibility of having your license suspended. And speeding doesn’t really save you much time for that risk. For instance, if you are taking a 20 mile trip and you drive 65 miles per hour instead of the lower 55 mile per hour limit, you will only save you 3 minutes. Is it really worth the financial and safety risk for 3 minutes? And keep in mind, with the revenue pressures on local governments and police departments, you can expect increased enforcement of traffic laws.
2. Don’t drink and drive.
At all levels of blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the risk of involvement in a motor vehicle crash is greater for teens than for older drivers. In 2008, 25% of drivers ages 15 to 20 who died in motor vehicle crashes had a BAC of 0.08 g/dl or higher. In a national survey conducted in 2007, nearly three out of ten teens reported that, within the previous month, they had ridden with a driver who had been drinking alcohol. One in ten reported having driven after drinking alcohol within the same one-month period.
When drinking alcohol, experts say that the first effect is on judgment. With a new or inexperienced driver, the effect is much worse.
3. Don’t drive at night.
In 2008, half of teen deaths from motor vehicle crashes occurred between 3 p.m. and midnight and 56% occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Many studies have shown that most teenagers do not get enough sleep and are often tired. Drowsiness increases your chances of being in an accident more than four times.
Younger drivers will likely struggle with concentration. Visibility is often poorer at night. If you have to drive at night, eliminate distractions (see below). Give yourself every opportunity you can to be safe by not driving at night when you are tired or when your visibility is limited.
4. Avoid distractions Young drivers often struggle with concentration. To improve your focus on driving, eliminate and avoid distractions. Leave the radio off while driving, or at least keep it low enough to allow yourself to hear your surroundings (maybe a child yelling or a horn warning of a danger). If you have passengers, don’t engage in a serious conversation until you reach your destination. Don’t use your cell phone while driving and certainly do NOT text while driving. According to a NHTSA and VTTI study, the principal distractions that led to vehicle crashes include:
- Cell phone use.
- Reaching for moving objects inside the vehicle.
- Looking at an object or event outside of the vehicle.
- Engaging in other distracting activities, such as reading, eating, drinking, or applying makeup while driving.
Experts say that it is important for parents, teachers and other responsible adults to discuss driving safety with teenage drivers. Many factors can contribute to unsafe driving, and bad habits can be hard to break once they are learned.
 See article: the “$3,000 Speeding Ticket” at http://www.allencountydrivealive.org/$3,000.htm.
 At 65 miles per hour, you cover 20 miles in 21.6 minutes [(65/60) x 20]. At 55 miles per hour, you cover the same distance in 18.3 minutes [(55/60) x 20]. The difference is 3.3 minutes.
 See National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 4/20/06 article “Breakthrough Research on Real-World Driver Behavior Released” and link to report at http://www.nhtsa.gov/Driving+Safety/Distracted+Driving/Breakthrough+Research+on+Real-World+Driver+Behavior+Released.
 “Driver inattention is the leading factor in most crashes and near-crashes, according to a landmark research report released today by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event. Primary causes of driver inattention are distracting activities, such as cell phone use, and drowsiness.” Quote from 4/20/06 article (and linked report) at cite noted in footnote 3 above.
 For more ideas on how to talk to your teenage driver about distractions and what to discuss, see “Fast Facts” brochure FFDL #28 “Driver Distractions”, and other brochures available online at http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/brochures/brochures_toc.htm,