As a pediatrician and parent, I was encouraged to read some of the results of the 2011 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which indicate that our teens are driving more safely than they did a decade ago:
- Use of seatbelts increased from 74 percent to 92 percent.
- Riding with a driver who had been drinking alcohol is down to 24 percent from 40 percent.
- Driving after drinking alcohol decreased to 8 percent from 17 percent.
But we still have a long road ahead with teen driver safety: One of every three students recently texted or e-mailed while driving! And studies show that distracted driving causes 20 percent of all automobile accidents.
In fact, hospital emergency rooms in the U.S. treat more than 350,000 teens each year for automobile accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The facts remain:
- Motor-vehicle crashes are still the leading cause of death among our teenagers.
- 3,000 teens die every year from motor vehicle accidents.
- Automobile crashes kill eight teens every day.
What can schools or groups do? CARAVAN is a Crozer program that opens teens’ eyes to the potential tragic consequences of motor vehicle crashes and other traumatic injuries. Schools, recreation centers, or other groups can contact Crozer to schedule a program.
What can parents do? Become familiar with the CDC’s 8 danger zones and then help our teens avoid them:
- No. 1: Driver inexperience. All new drivers are more likely than experienced drivers to be involved in a fatal crash. Crash risk is particularly high during the first year of driving. Give teens at least 50 hours of supervised driving practice over at least six months, on various types of roads, at different times of day, and in various weather and traffic conditions.
- No. 2: Driving with teen passengers. Crash risk goes up when teens drive with other teens: risk doubles with two teen passengers and quadruples with three or more. Make sure teens drive with no more than one other teen passenger for at least the first six months.
- No. 3: Driving at night. Because most fatal crashes happen at night, restrict teens to daytime driving for at least the first six months.
- No. 4: Driving without seat belts. Make sure teens buckle up every time.
- No. 5: Distracted driving. Teach teens not to talk on a cell phone, text, eat, or fuss with the radio.
- No. 6: Drowsy driving. Be sure teens are fully rested before driving. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teens get about nine hours of sleep per night.
- No. 7: Reckless driving. Studies find that teens are more likely than older drivers to speed or tailgate and to underestimate dangerous situations. Teach teens to drive within the speed limit, avoid tailgating, and carefully scan the road for other vehicles, as well as bikes and pedestrians.
- No. 8: Impaired driving. Know that even one drink impairs driving ability, and teach teens why no one should ever drink and drive.
Driving home point No. 8: As a pediatrician, I like to underscore the importance of point no. 8. I ask them to put on Fatal Vision Goggles, which simulates alcohol- or drug-impaired vision. While wearing goggles they try to balance themselves on one leg, balance an object, walk across the room, and sit in a chair and shoot a basket; they start to understand how alcohol impairs balance, reaction time, maneuvering and accuracy.
Practice, practice, practice. As parents, helping our children become safe drivers is one of our hardest yet most important responsibilities. Pennsylvania has a program to help first-time drivers under age 18 to become safe drivers. The Graduated Driver’s License has three stages:
- A learner’s permit requires 50 hours of supervised driving with a licensed driver over age 21.
- A provisional license restricts driving hours (5 a.m. to 11 p.m. only) and the number of passengers.
- A full-privilege license is obtained at age 18.
After the practice session, you and your teen can put your feet up on the coffee table (go ahead!) and watch a teen-oriented safe driving video together.
Are you having challenges making sure your teen follows the rules of the road while enjoying the ride?
Rima Himelstein, M.D., is a Crozer-Keystone Health System pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist.
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