Keeping Teens Safe Behind the Wheel
You’ve waited for this day to come for 16 1/2 years, and now it’s finally here. Your son or daughter has just gotten their driver’s license. Hallelujah! Say goodbye to the exhaustion of driving your kids back and forth across town to school, activities, the movies, birthdays, and more. You won’t miss the fights over which station to listen to, the anxiety of running late for a pick-up, and the feeling of being caught in a whirlwind all the time.
So, you should be feeling a big “Aaaahhhhh“ at this moment. But instead you’re filled with dread and a pit in your stomach. Is your teen ready to handle driving on their own, at night, in bad weather?
And so a new type of worrying begins, and it’s not entirely irrational either. According to In Control Family Foundation, driving is far more dangerous for teens than adults. Teenagers have more vehicular accident-related fatalities than the sum total of the next nine causes of teen deaths. Other than the obvious reasons for this –being new to driving and being far less experienced – there are several factors that a teen really can’t help that contribute to this increased risk.
Per the National Institute of Mental Health, the teen brain is “still under construction”. In fact, their brains won’t look like a mature adult one until about the age of 20. So while your teen is as close as possible to their peak physical health, strength, and mental capacity, these pivotal years, from 15 to 19, are some of the most hazardous ones.
In essence, your young driver thinks they are invincible; after all they aced their driver’s ed classes and the Mass DOT driver’s license exam. But these stepping-stones to being able to drive are just the beginning of the learning process. As parents, we can provide significant support to our newly minted drivers by talking to them about the most common driving hazards and how to avoid them.
#1 Don’t Drink And Drive
Blah, blah, blah. Your teen will probably tell you that they know this already and that, of course, they never would drink and drive. Unfortunately, they also are probably not telling you the whole truth. Drive-safely.net shares the following alarming statistics:
- 70% of all teenagers admit to drinking alcohol.
- Every 15 minutes a teenager will die due to drunk driving.
- 60% of all teen deaths from car accidents involve alcohol.
- In a national survey conducted in 2011, 24% of teens reported that within the previous month, they had ridden with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
- In 2010, 56% of teens killed in drinking and driving accidents were not wearing their seat belts.
Anonymously, teens will say that peer pressure can be unbearable and that just saying “no” doesn’t work, whether it’s accepting a drink when they are the driver or getting in the car with someone who is intoxicated.
So how can you help your teen in these uncomfortable situations when all eyes are on them? Dr. Michele Borba, a TODAY contributor, author, parenting expert and educational consultant, says parents can offer their kids other options – call them harmless white lies – that will get them off the hook, like “My dad will take away my license.” “I don’t need a ride — my friend is coming.” “My mom will ground me for life — and she always finds out.”
Two other important ways to support your teen is through role modeling the behavior that you want him/her to follow, and never, ever stop talking to them about the hazards of driving while intoxicated.
Finally, when at a loss for anything else to say to get through to that continually molting brain of a teen, talk to them about the legal ramifications of being pulled over for DUI. The penalties can be severe in Massachusetts, where a driver under 21 only needs to register 0.02% to be considered driving under the influence. For a teen, the fear and potential humiliation of arrest is often a bigger deterrent than the concern of an accident.
#2 Observe The Rules of The Road
Today, many drivers think it’s funny to say a yellow light signal means “go faster” so you can beat the red light, but in reality, this type of attitude harms lives. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), running a red light kills more than 900 people a year and injures nearly 2,000. In addition, the NHTSA reported in 2013 that about 35 percent of 15 to 20-year-old male drivers who were involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash.
Obeying traffic lights and speed limits may be two of the most important road rules for your teen to follow for their safety, but certainly not the only ones parents should discuss with their teens. Again, being a model of behavior when it comes to driving rules and etiquette is crucial when it comes to getting buy-in from your teen. If you’re not following the law by slowing down in construction zones, coming to a full stop at a four-way intersection, using your blinker, or wearing your seatbelt, then do you really think your teen is going to do it?
For Massachusetts teens under the age of 18, their Junior Operator’s License comes with additional restrictions that both the parents and the young drivers should be aware of, including:
- Passenger Restrictions – Drivers under the age of 18 and holding a junior operator’s license are not allowed to have passengers under the age of 21 in the vehicle with them, unless this person is a family member. The one exception to this rule is if in addition to the under age passenger, there is also another passenger who has a driver’s license, is at least 21 years of age, and has at least one year of driving experience. And this adult must be in the seat beside the junior operator.
- Time Restrictions – Drivers holding a junior operator’s license are not allowed to operate a vehicle between the hours of 12:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
Additional Junior Operator violations can be found on the RMV’s website along with related fines that range from $100-$500. Make sure your new driver understands the significance of these state restrictions. If found to be in violation of any of them, the RMV will suspend or revoke their license. And that would really be a bummer for them and you!
#3 The Two Dangerous Ds – Drowsy Driving & Distracted Driving
Results of a November 2013 AAA survey showed that 28.3 percent of licensed drivers age 16 or older said that in the past 30 days they had driven when they were so tired that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.
Lack of sleep can leave anybody feeling lightheaded, clumsy, and unable to focus on things for too long. Hmmmm, sounds a little bit like being intoxicated…And, in fact, studies have shown that driving without adequate sleep on a daily basis can affect your coordination, judgment, and reaction time the same way driving drunk does.
At Gilbert Insurance, we suggest educating your teen on what drowsy driving is and what to do if it happens to them. Some drowsy driving indications to be aware of are yawning, blinking frequently, forgetting the past few miles driven, missing your exit, drifting from your lane or hitting a rumble strip while driving. If your teen experiences any of these symptoms while operating a vehicle, instruct them to pull over to a safe place and, if there is no other driver to switch places with, to call you for a ride.
Also important to mention to your child is that neither turning up the radio nor opening the window are effective ways to keep them alert. In fact, driving with loud music can actually turn into another distraction that is just as dangerous as using a cell phone while driving.
Which leads us to the last, but certainly not the least, driving hazard to talk to your teens about – distracted driving. There are many things that are known to take even the most mature driver’s attention away from the road including:
- Moving objects, like a roaming pet
- Adjusting mirrors, the radio or your seat
- Eating or drinking
- Your passengers
But cell phone usage is quickly becoming the number one deadliest force for distraction, especially among young drivers, 16-24. This is somewhat ironic considering that your Junior Operator is the only type of driver prohibited by Massachusetts law from using the following electronic equipment while driving:
- mobile phone
- any text messaging or paging device
- laptop computer
- any other electronic equipment capable of playing video games (like PokemonGo), video disks, receiving t.v. broadcasts, or taking/transmitting digital photographs while driving
Once again, any violation of the restrictions above comes with a fine of up to $500 and up to a one year suspension.
The only exception to this rule is if your teen needs to report an emergency. But even in that situation, we strongly encourage your teen pull over to a safe spot and bring the vehicle to a full stop before calling 911.
Talking to your teen about the repercussions may help to deter them from this dangerous activity. Here are some startling statistics to that will hopefully drive the point home:
- Every day, 11 teenagers die because they were texting while driving.
- Of all the teenagers ever involved in fatal accidents every year, 21% were using a cell phone at the time of the accident.
- Teen drivers have a 400% higher chance of being in a car crash when texting while driving than adults.
- When teens text while they drive, they veer off their lane 10% of their total drive time.
- A study at the University of Utah found out that the reaction time for a teen using a cell phone is the same as that of a 70 year old who isn’t using one.
- 48% of kids in their younger teenage years have been in a car while the driver was texting. Over 1600 children in the same age group are killed each year because of crashes involving texters.
The impact of distracted driving goes well beyond your teen driver’s safety. It extends to their passengers, other vehicles on the road, bikers, and pedestrians. As a parent, it’s important to remind your child every time they get in their car “BTW don’t txt and drive, TYVM.”
The team at Gilbert Insurance is here to help protect all of the drivers in your family, no matter what their level of experience. Call or email Gilbert Insurance for additional guidance about keeping your teen driver safe. We will offer you advice on the proper auto insurance for your new driver as well as find you any applicable savings such as A Student Away at School or A Good Student Discount and more!