Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death of teenagers and young adults. One National Highway Safety Administration study indicated that 16- to 24-year-old drivers accounted for 25 percent of all traffic deaths.
And, while drugs, alcohol and driving don't mix; the truth is that 69 percent of drivers age 15 to 20 killed in crashes where NOT under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In most cases, the lack of time behind the wheel, and the lack of experience in different kinds of driving situations, causes the vast majority of teen deaths in car crashes.
Just as it takes practice to excel in sports or school, driving should be approached in the exact same way. Practice, practice and more practice.
Centennial Medical Center offers these tips to help parents keep their teens safe behind the wheel:
• Limiting distractions is a key factor in driving safely. This should include no cell phone usage while driving as this is as dangerous as drunken driving. The list of potentially dangerous distractions also includes other teenage passengers, iPods, eating food and putting on makeup.
• Consider the maturity of your teen. Not all teenagers should receive their license the minute they become eligible. Not getting a license at age 16 is not the end of the world. Remember that teens mature at different ages.
• Teens tend to learn driving habits by observing their parents and, as a result, we become the behind-the-wheel role model for our teen long before he or she reaches driving age. If the parent drives fast and reckless, what is this telling the young driver?
• The fact that your teenager received a driver's license does not mean he or she has become an expert. The more parents stay involved, teaching and encouraging good habits, the more they lower risk. Parents should set clear rules and consequences and stick with them.
• Create ownership in the vehicle they drive by having them pay half or all of the cost of insurance, gas or maintenance.
Tips for Teen Drivers
• Driving may seem easy, but it's a complex skill. You need good vision and brain-eye-hand coordination and the ability to divide your attention between several things.
• Keep your eyes moving. Keep your eyes up to see what's happening several cars ahead. Stay alert for motorcyclists, cyclists, pedestrians and skaters who are more difficult to see.
• Leave at least a 20 second cushion between you and the car in front of you. It should take you two to four seconds to pass a fixed point after the car in front of you does.
• Don't assume others will follow traffic rules. You never know what another driver will do. So, for example, when the light turns green, you still need to look left-right-left. Another driver could be running the red light, or a pedestrian may be about to cross in front of you.
• Think about what other drivers are doing. What could happen? What are your options? Example: if someone cuts in front of you to make an exit, they'll probably be hitting their brakes soon. So, you should slow down and make sure to keep your 2 to 4 second cushion.
• Always be aware of where your “out” is. If you had to, could you move left, right, speed up, slow down? Check your mirrors.
• Mind your blind spot. Beat the blind spot; quickly turning to check your blind spot before switching lanes and staying out of the other driver’s blind spots - if you can't see the driver’s face in his or her rear or side view mirrors, he or she probably can't see you.
• Learn from your mistakes. When you have a close call, think about what happened and focus on the factors that caused the situation (speed, tailgating, distraction, right-of-way, etc.) and what you can do to prevent it.