Things Parents Can Do To Keep Their Teen Driver Safe

Traffic accidents are the number one cause of death among teenagers. That's a chilling fact to hear as your children approach driving age, but the positive news is there are steps you can take to minimize your child's risk in an automobile.  Like everything worthwhile, the steps take some effort, but we're certain your children's safety is well worth that effort. In its campaign to aid teen safety the AAA has assembled 10 tips to making your teen a safer driver, which we are happy to share here:

Tip #1: Know and understand your teenage child. Not all teens are ready to drive at the same age. Teenagers mature, develop emotionally and become responsible at varying rates, which parents need to gauge as they determine when their teen is ready to drive. If you think your teen is not ready to drive, you're probably right.

Tip #2: Be a positive and responsible role model. Teenagers learn from their parents' behavior, so parents' actions behind the wheel influence the driving behavior of their teens. Research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that, when using the number of collisions and traffic tickets as criteria, the parents of teens involved in crashes were more likely to have poor driving records than the parents of collision-free teens.

Tip #3: Choose a quality driving school. Driving is a risky activity for teens and warrants professional instruction. Driving schools that feature cutting-edge curriculums, high degrees of interaction and professionally-trained instructors are worth what may be added costs. Parents can consult their local AAA-affiliated auto club for advice because many are able to recommend high-quality driving schools in the surrounding area.

Tip #4: Practice not only makes perfect, it can also make for better teen drivers. As an important supplement to formal driver education, supervised driving sessions with parents provide teens with opportunities to reinforce proper driving techniques and skills and receive constructive feedback from the people that care most about their safety and success. To assist parents in these efforts, AAA offers "Teaching Your Teens To Drive," a parent coaching program containing everything a parent needs to conduct supervised driving and more.

Tip #5: Keep teen drivers free of teen passengers and off the road at night. Extensive research indicates that a teen driver's chances of crashing increase with each additional teen passenger. Parents need to make sure they know who is driving with their teen at all times. Research also demonstrates clearly that teen crash rates spike at night and that most nighttime crashes occur between nine p.m. and midnight.

Tip #6: Encourage teens to get enough sleep. Teens need about nine hours of sleep every night, but many teens fall short due to the combination of early-morning school start times and homework, sports, after-school jobs and other activities. A lack of sleep can negatively affect vision, hand-eye coordination, reaction time and judgment.

Tip #7: Eliminate distractions. Cell phones and text messaging have received significant media and legislative attention as hazardous distractions for teen drivers and rightly so. With surveys reporting widespread use of distracting technology by teens, more than one-third of states have recently banned cell phone use by new teen drivers. Parents should make it a strict rule in their households, too.

Tip #8: Create a parent-teen driving agreement. Having rules, conditions, restrictions and consequences of teens' driving written down in advance establishes driving as a privilege and not as something to be taken for granted. Parents should look to state graduated driver licensing programs as the minimum for their own family standards of conduct. Parents should establish rules and consequences that they and their teens agree upon that extend beyond state laws. If the teen breaks a family driving rule, consequences should be enforced and the situation should be used as an opportunity for learning and discussion. Conversely, proper driving behavior should be encouraged and rewarded with additional liberties. AAA offers parent-teen driving agreements at their Web site.

Tip #9: Set a time each week for discussion and review of driving behavior. Parental involvement and communication is critical in the prevention of teen-related crashes, injuries and fatalities. Designate a time each week to address concerns (both parent and teen), review the teen's driving performance and chart the progression towards established goals and benchmarks.

Tip #10: Make smart vehicle choice decisions for teens. As the family member most likely to crash, a teen should drive the safest vehicle the family owns. Things to consider are vehicle type, size and safety technology. Remember sedans are generally safer than sports cars, SUVs and pickup trucks, and larger vehicles fare better in crashes than smaller vehicles. Vehicles equipped with front- and side-curtain air bags, anti-lock brakes and stability control systems may help teens survive crashes that otherwise would cause serious injury or death.

Based in Cleveland, Driving Today Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini writes frequently on teen safety issues involving the automobile.