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The Informed Parent

Teenage Drivers

by Shanna R. Cox, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Feb. 20, 2006

As we come into the season of winter formals and junior and senior proms every parent should take a moment to consider the big picture for a teenage driver. Teen drivers are generally considered to be those drivers ages sixteen-to-nineteen years. As a group they count for approximately seven percent of licensed drivers. Unfortunately they are involved in double that percentage of fatal motor vehicle accidents. This is particularly true for the teens in their first year of driving, when the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that sixteen-year-old drivers are twenty times more likely to have a motor vehicle accident than their fellow licensed drivers.

Looking at this picture more closely becomes increasingly alarming and overwhelming. In this age group of teen drivers motor vehicle related crashes are the most common cause of death. Most of these teens that perish in a motor vehicle accident were accompanied by another youth. And, not surprisingly, greater than fifty percent of these accidents occur over the weekend.

This is not just bad luck. Teens have multiple risk factors that make them more likely to be involved in automobile accidents. Primarily they have scant driving experience, which translates into few defensive driving techniques. They have little understanding of their vehicle's specific response times or blind spots mechanically or visually. To compound the effects of this inexperience, there is teenage behavior. Teens tend to have an "it won't happen to me" attitude, and take risks that better judgment might curb. Additionally, they are influenced by other teens either riding next to them or who may have made an impression on them at some other time. Peer pressure continues to be a big consideration in decisions teens make. These emotional reactions may translate into high speeds increasing a teen's risk of injury. Studies also show that teens tend not to buckle up, particularly if they are riding as a passenger. These types of seemingly small errors become amplified with a teenage driving at night with other teens that may be encouraging or distracting them inappropriately.

Each parent should be alert to all of the above risks and discuss them frequently and repetitively with their children. There should be established expectations in the family regarding the responsibility of driving, ranging from the driver's conduct to the car's maintenance. This includes modeling these behaviors yourself! Actively engage your teen in discussions about different driving scenarios. Personally supervise them in different situations to assure they are able to handle the car and themselves. Driving is a privilege, and as such should not be taken lightly by teens or parents. Next month we will talk about the laws that are in place to help teen drivers navigate these first few driving years more successfully and with less injury.

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