Six ways to corral teen drivers
Karen Haywood Queen
Whether they’re showing off or texting, novice teen drivers often put themselves, their passengers, other drivers and property at risk when they’re behind the wheel.
You can’t ride shotgun on every trip, but here are six ways you can steer your teen’s driving in the right direction. Following this advice may give you some peace of mind — and may even prevent a spike in the already pricey auto insurance coverage for your teen.
1. Limit the number of teen passengers.
“Teens tend to be very distracting to each other,” says Sue Duchak, who leads the Allstate Foundation’s teen driving program. “The presence of even one passenger increases the chance of a fatal crash. The presence of a male passenger nearly doubles the risk of a fatal crash.”
2. Restrict nighttime driving.
Nearly half the teens who died in car crashes in 2009 were killed between 3 p.m. and midnight, Duchak says.
Even though teens have good night vision compared with older drivers, their lack of experience means they don’t adapt as well to driving at night, says Bruce Simons-Morton, a researcher at the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development. For teens, late-night driving many times can involve drinking alcohol and other dangerous behavior.
3. Cut the chatter.
“Using a cellphone while driving is like driving drunk,” Duchak says, delaying a driver’s response as much as having a blood-alcohol level of 0.08.
Still, many teens and adults insist they can multitask in the car. The problem is teens aren’t good at concentrating first on the primary task of driving, Simons-Morton says.
In one study on a test track, researchers had adult and teen drivers drive through a traffic signal several times, Simons-Morton says. Then researchers gave cellphones to the teen and adult drivers, and asked them to make calls to obtain information.
Adults were clumsy and couldn’t complete the task. “As experienced drivers, they were uncomfortable not looking up,” Simons-Morton says. On the other hand, “teen-agers were fantastic at using the cellphone and getting the information,” he says. “But they were highly likely to run the red light.”
4. Ban texting.
Texting on a cellphone is even more dangerous than talking. “No one should text while driving,” Simons-Morton says. “It is perhaps the most dangerous secondary task.”
Parents should explain to teen drivers how and why the behavior is dangerous. Put it in terms teenagers can understand. For instance, Duchak suggests, you can tell a teen driver that at 55 mph, a five-second text takes his eyes off the road for the length of a football field. Also, you and your teen driver can visit websites like Distraction.gov to see stories of traffic deaths blamed on texting and other distracted driving.
Simons-Morton recommends that parents be good role models. “Put the phone down while driving. Make a family commitment to avoid distracted driving,” he says.
5. Don’t buy a car for your teen.
“When teens share a vehicle with a parent, they do not drive as risky as when they have exclusive access to a vehicle,” Simons-Morton says.
6. Don’t let a younger teen drive.
Nine states still allow teens to drive at age 14, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but you can set your own age limit even if you live in one of those states. Driving at 14 may have been fine 50 years ago, Simons-Morton says, but roads are far more sophisticated now.
“Driving conditions are a lot more complicated,” Simons-Morton says. “Modern vehicles are very powerful. Even small cities have extensive traffic.”
If you’re worried that your teen is too immature to drive, don’t let him get that driver’s license even if your state allows it.
“Every parent knows their teens are more mature at 17 than at 16 and more mature at 20 than 18,” Simons-Morton says. “Delaying licensure is a good thing.”