Back-to-School Safety: Teen Driving

photo_894_20060124For many parents, the phrase “back to school” brings to mind #2 pencils and loose-leaf notebook paper. But for parents of older kids, the announcement of a new school year beginning evokes a very different (and terrifying) image: their teen behind the wheel.

It should come as no great surprise that most teens prefer driving to school. Some studies estimate that nearly 80 percent of teens get their license just so they don’t have to take the bus.

Parents should take the time to sit down and go over these teen driving safety tips before handing over the keys on the first day of school.

  • Pay Attention. Distracted driving accounts for thousands of deaths every year.
    • Do not talk on the phone or text while driving. Drivers who text and drive are 23 times more likely to get into an accident.
    • Do not fiddle with the radio, MP3 player, or navigation system.
    • Refrain from eating or drinking, checking your appearance in the mirror, or talking to passengers.
  • Limit Passengers. The more friends your teen has in the car, the more likely they are to be involved in an accident. (In Ohio, 16-year-old licensed drivers are not permitted to transport more than one person who is not a family member at any time, unless the driver’s parent or guardian is in the vehicle as well.)
  • Do a trial run. Many teens think they know where they’re going, but things are different without mom or dad in the passenger seat. Encourage your teen to look at a map before they go anywhere. It’s also a good idea to make sure they know multiple routes in case construction or an accident causes a road closure.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. If your teen has been a night owl all summer, encourage them to start going to bed earlier so they are alert in the morning. Drowsy driving can decrease your reaction time, impair your vision or judgment, and can increase your chances of getting into a car crash.
  • Leave early. Encourage your teen to arrive at school at least ten minutes before the first bell rings. Teens who feel they may be late are more likely to speed, tailgate, or drive erratically. The parking lot will also be less congested earlier in the morning.
  • Always wear your seat belt. Remind your teen to never start the car until they are certain everyone is wearing a safety belt (front and back seats.)
  • Keep your cool. Don’t try to compete with aggressive drivers; just stay out of their way. Teens may be tempted to race, tailgate, or “get back at” drivers who cut them off or offended them in some way. Remind your teen that emotional driving can be extremely dangerous. The U.S. Highway Safety Office reports that each year, tens of thousands of automobile accidents can be linked directly to the expression of road rage or by aggressive driving.

As parents, we can help our teens by modeling good driving habits and encouraging them to do the same for their friends.

For more information, visit Drive It Home, a program launched by the National Safety Council which offers specially created resources to help parents keep their teens safer on the roads.

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