Parental supervision, graduated drivers’ licenses help reduce teen crashes

Teen drivers have the highest crash risk per mile traveled of any age group. The problem is worst among 16 year olds, who have the most limited driving experience and an immaturity that often results in risk-taking.

 Characteristics of fatal crashes of 16-year-old drivers include:

  • Driver error. Compared with older drivers’ fatal crashes, those of 16 year-olds more often involve driver error.
  • Speeding. Sixteen-year-old drivers have a higher rate of fatal crashes in which excessive speed is a factor.
  • Single-vehicle crashes. More of 16 year-olds’ fatal crashes involve only the teen’s vehicle. Typically these are high-speed crashes in which the driver lost control.
  • Passengers. Sixteen year-olds’ fatal crashes are more likely to occur when passengers are riding in the vehicle. This risk increases with the addition of every passenger.
  • Alcohol. Although this is a problem among drivers of all ages, it’s actually less of a problem for 16 year-olds. Typically, about 15 percent of fatally injured 16-year-old drivers have blood alcohol concentrations of 0.08 percent or more, but alcohol becomes more of a problem in later teen years.
  • Night driving. This is a high-risk activity for beginners. Per mile driven, the nighttime fatal crash rate of 16 year-olds is about twice as high at night compared with during the day.
  • Low belt use. Most teenagers who are killed in crashes aren’t using their safety belts.

Teenagers perceive a driver’s license as a ticket to freedom. It’s momentous for parents, too. Though they often are aware of 16 year-olds’ high crash risks, they’re relieved

not to have to chauffeur their children around anymore. But the price is steep. Crashes are the leading cause of death among American teens, accounting for more than one third of all deaths of 16 to 18 year-olds.

An effective way to reduce this toll is to enact graduated licensing, under which driving privileges are phased in to restrict beginners’ initial experience behind the wheel to

lower risk situations. The restrictions gradually are lifted, so teenagers are more experienced and mature when they get their full, unrestricted licenses.

The best graduated licensing systems include a learner’s stage that begins at age 16, lasts 6 months, specifies a minimum amount of supervised driving, limits night driving and teen passengers, and sets alcohol tolerance at zero.

Graduated licensing laws have reduced teens’ crash rates in the United States, Canada, and New Zealand. Almost all U.S. states have such laws, but they aren’t all strong.

What parents of teenagers can do

With or without a strong graduated licensing law, parents can establish effective rules. In particular:

Don’t rely solely on driver education. High school driver education may be the most convenient way to learn skills, but it doesn’t produce safer drivers. Poor skills aren’t always to blame. Teenagers’ attitudes and decision-making matter more. Young people tend to rebel, and some teens seek thrills like speeding. Training and education don’t change these tendencies. Peers are influential, but parents have much more influence tha typically is credited to them.

Know the law. Become familiar with restrictions on young drivers. Enforce the rules. To learn about the law in your state, go to www.iihs.org/laws/state_laws/grad_license.html.

Restrict night driving. Most young drivers’ nighttime fatal crashes occur from 9 p.m. to midnight, so teens shouldn’t drive much later than 9. The problem isn’t just that such driving requires more skill. Late outings tend to be recreational, and even teens who usually follow the rules can be easily distracted or encouraged to take risks.

For more tips on ways to reduce crash rates for young beginning drivers watch this short video from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Encourage your teen to watch it with you. These tips can save lives while teenagers learn to drive and become more mature.

Posted 11:39 AM  View Comments

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