One of the most conflicting times in a parent’s life is when their child can finally start driving themselves places on their own. After 16 years of lugging babies in bulky car seats, wrestling sweaty toddlers who can do their buckle “all by myself!”, driving to and from school, to and from practice, to and from games, to and from dance rehearsal, to and from friends’ houses… suddenly, one day, they’re old enough to grab the keys and just go. Without us.
What a relief, right? Sure! What an anxiety-inducing, terrifying “relief” it is when we watch our kids who were in diapers—we swear like 11 minutes ago—back out of the driveway and head out into the big, scary world—behind the wheel.
And summer is the scariest time of all, isn’t it? In fact, if you feel extra nervous about your teens driving around town during the months of June, July, and August, you’re not alone. Statistically, the 100 days of summer are actually the most dangerous for young drivers, so your heightened level of anxiety is warranted.
For example, these sobering statistics provided by AAA should give parents some pause before they hand over the keys to their teens, now that summer is here:
– An average of almost 700 people die each year in crashes involving teen drivers.
– The average number of deaths from crashes involving teen drivers ages 15-18 is 17 percent higher per day [in the summer months] compared to other days of the year.
And the most common causes of car crashes among teens? Not surprisingly, drinking and driving, as well as speeding and distraction, are at the top among the youngest drivers on the road, AAA reports.
But we know that even though we worry, they’re still going to go. And they’re still going to act like almost-children-who-were-just-in-booster-seats-like-yesterday teenagers with not yet fully developed cerebral cortexes. Because that’s what they are. Yet now, they’re operating a 3,000-lb. piece machinery careening down the high way at 70 mph.
There are some things, however, that we as parents can do to help our teens stay safe on the roads, particularly during the summer months.
Bill Wade, National Program Director for Tire Rack’s Street Survival, a national teen driver safety course that teaches teens the “real rules of the road”, offers his “top tips” for teen driving safety.
Some of them, to veteran drivers, might seem like common sense. But younger, newer drivers often need to be reminded about everyday driving rules like where to keep your hands, knowing how to operate the windshield wipers, and the big one—NO TEXTING AND DRIVING.
Wade’s first tip is to “ensure everything is in its place.” This means before putting the car in drive, your teen should check the mirrors—can they see out of all them? Are there any blind spots? Check their seatbelt—does it cross the middle of their chest? Refresh their memory—where do their hands go? (9 and 3 o’clock position on steering wheel! Yes, even if your girlfriend is in the passenger seat. You can hold her hand when you get to your destination, Blake. NOT WHILE YOU’RE DRIVING.)
This way once they are in motion, everything is positioned the way it’s supposed to be.
The next tip is to reinforce with our teen drivers the importance of a “safe following distance.”
“The vast majority of teens’ first incidents are from rear ending a vehicle or just hitting something in front of them because they don’t understand the effort it takes to stop their vehicle fully and quickly,” Wade explains, adding that in learning how to drive, teens should “practice estimate by pointing to a stationary object and seeing how long it takes to get to it.” And, they need to reminded that even as slow as 35 mph, a good driver ensures they have over three seconds to come to a full stop, which they can’t do if they’re following too closely behind the car in front of them. Finally, Wade adds, even for veteran drivers, “There is no such thing as looking too far ahead.”
Basically, don’t tailgate the car in front of you, kids. It’s really not safe.
Another important tip is to ensure that kids know the car—inside and out. I remember getting trapped in a sudden rain storm once, driving a friend’s car I was unfamiliar with, and not knowing how to turn on the windshield wipers. Another time the windshield fogged up unexpectedly. Do your kids know how to operate the defrost? Do they know the different types of lights for nighttime and day driving that their car has? What do all the dashboard lights and symbols mean?
There’s more than gas pedal, brake pedal, and radio when it comes to driving, and we need to make sure our young drivers know all of it.
In addition, a key piece to driver preparedness is knowing how to avoid distractions. Especially in this modern age, our kids need to know the dangers of using their phones while driving or goofing around with friends while behind the wheel. One mistake can be deadly, and then it’s over.
“Driver inattention is the leading cause of incidents with teen drivers—and 42 percent of high school students who drove in the last month reported using their phone while driving,” Wade tells Scary Mommy. “We recommend teaching teens and new drivers to turn their phones off before they even get into the car. This eliminates arguably the biggest distraction they have in the car and dramatically reduces their risk of accidents.”
Not an option. NO. PHONES. WHILE. DRIVING.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers some suggestions to encourage kids to be more safe when operating a vehicle.
“Teens can be the best messengers with their peers, so we encourage them to speak up when they see a friend driving while distracted, to have their friends sign a pledge to never drive distracted, to become involved in their local Students Against Destructive Decisions chapter, and to share messages on social media that remind their friends, family, and neighbors not to make the deadly choice to drive distracted,” NHTSA says.
And parents are responsible too, NHTSA reminds us. It’s on us to set a good example—that means no distracted driving for us either.
“Have everyone in the family sign the pledge to commit to distraction-free driving,” NHTSA recommends, adding, “Remind your teen driver that in states with graduated driver licensing (GDL), a violation of distracted-driving laws could mean a delayed or suspended license.”
And finally, practice, practice, practice—on main roads, side roads, in the winter, in the summer, in the rain, and when the sun is blaring in your eyes. Kids need practice with responsible adults in order to prepare themselves for any and all types of situations.
That’s why Bill Wade and his team developed Street Survival. Most kids already take a driver’s ed course that teaches them about speed limits, parallel parking, and who has the right of way at an intersection. But veteran drivers know that there are like 800 million other scenarios that a driver can encounter—situations the require quick thinking and can be deadly if the driver is unprepared.
Street Survival is marketed as “Real World. Hands On.” And their website explains that their school teaches young drivers “to control [their] car in unpredictable situations based on its handling limits.” Also, the program goes on to say that when enrolled in Street Survival, students will “master the application of driving physics using their car. They learn how to make good driving decisions and react more quickly. They become more aware and learn how to begin anticipating the actions of other drivers.”
The truth is, cars can be weapons. It’s imperative that our teenagers understand the grave responsibility we are trusting them with when we hand over those kids. A driver is responsible for protecting not only themselves, but anyone else in the car. And they must remember that their decisions and behavior affect other drivers on the road too. And on top of that, they have to be ready and able to handle whatever comes their way—whether that means a deer running across the road, hearing the ding of a text, or hitting a patch of ice on a cold winter day.
Summer is here, parents. If you have a teen driver, it’s crucial that you take the time to review these precautions, ensure they know their car well, and remind them of the dangers of distractions.
I mean, they are still kids after all.