Safety advocate urges parental involvement in teen driving

Jeff Larson,
President, Safe Roads Alliance
The week of Oct.20th was National Teen Driver Safety Week –a time to focus on helping teens become safer drivers.

The No. 1 cause of teen deaths in America is automobile crashes. After nearly a decade of dropping, the number has begun to rise again. In the first six months of 2012, the death toll for 16- and 17-year-old drivers killed in crashes nationwide reached 240 – a 19 percent increase over the same period in 2011.

The emphasis for this year’s National Teen Drivers Safety Week was parental involvement.

Parents have a significant influence developing their teen’s driving behavior. Most states require a parent (or licensed adult driver) supervise a teen’s driving before they acquire a license.

Sitting in the passenger seat, pumping the imaginary break, parents are ultimately transformed into driving coaches – navigating the “rules of the road” with their teen.

As driving coaches, parents have three key responsibilities:

1. Become informed on current teen driving laws.
2. Help enforce the current teen driving laws.
3. Commit to spending as much time as possible with your teen behind the wheel.

In order for a teen’s driving skills to improve, they need experience. It is imperative that parents ride with their teens and challenge their driving proficiency as often as possible.

A seminal 2012 study by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia stated that “involved parents, who set high expectations and nurture their young drivers, will see their children more likely to drive safely at far greater rates than teens with permissive or uninvolved parents.”

When parents are engaged, teens are much less likely to crash or drive while intoxicated or distracted, and they are much more likely to wear a seat belt.

As a support to parental authority, every state has passed some form of the Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws. They have proven effective in improving teen safety by limiting some driving conditions until teens gain experience.

Many states – including Idaho – have implemented a driving curfew and placed restrictions on teens driving with other teens. However, laws are ineffective without parental involvement. Involved parents are in the best position to gauge whether their teen has matured ... whether they are capable of driving in varied real-life circumstances – at nighttime, on highways or in inclement weather.

If their teen is not ready, parents can – and perhaps should – consider delaying their teen’s licensing. Furthermore, it is equally important for parents to continue supervision of their teen, even after licensing, by setting early driving curfews and other safety restrictions, as well as remaining an active driving coach.

Parental involvement, the focus of this year’s National Teen Drivers Safety Week, is especially pertinent.

A September State Farm Report revealed a potentially dangerous disconnect between teens and parents regarding teen driving laws. Less than half of teens that responded to a survey said they always follow laws about night driving or the number of passengers allowed.

Meanwhile, most of the parents said they believed their child followed the laws.

The study also found that parents are often unaware of how much their teen’s text while driving. This divide is disturbing.

It is understandable that many parents would prefer to avoid driving with their teens. Being a driving coach requires patience, knowledge and boundless courage. Despite these qualms, it is important for parents to recognize and embrace their inherent importance as driving supervisors and monitors for their teens.

It is only through active parental participation that we can ensure our teens become safe drivers – a change that ultimately will help eradicate crashes as the No. 1 killer of our children.

Published 10-25-13