The facts couldn't be clearer: Car accidents are the number-one cause of accidental deaths in children ages 0-19 nationally. The AAA auto club says the 100 days of summer (from Memorial Day to Labor Day) are the deadliest for teenage drivers and their teen passengers. It's a time when schedules are looser; trips involve friends and fun rather than school and structured activities; and curfews may be less strict.
In New York State, Suffolk County has the highest teen death rate from auto accidents. Motor vehicle accidents are also responsible for an alarming proportion of disabling injuries. Experts at Stony Brook University Hospital want you to not only be aware of this problem, but also to take action to keep your teens safe. Jane McCormack, RN, Trauma Program Manager, Stony Brook Medicine, shares important tips to keep your teens safe out on the road this summer.
"Even more than drinking and driving -- which thanks to strong messaging is at an all-time low -- distracted driving is a huge problem for teens," says McCormack. "Which includes anything that takes their attention away from the road: cell phones, texting, music and GPS, but most of all, other passengers."
For every additional passenger, the fatal crash rate goes up. "New York has a good graduated licensing program that helps limit the number of passengers, but parents can do their part too in making teens earn driving (and passenger) privileges in three-month increments," says McCormack.
"The number one thing parents can do to help keep their teen drivers safe is get involved and stay involved," suggests McCormack. "Just because a teen has completed driver's education training and has received a license does not mean he or she is road ready."
Studies show that the part of the brain affecting judgment is not fully developed until age 25. So this fact, combined with novice driving skills, means that teens need more supervision than you might think.
Some of McCormack's tips:
Don't give teens carte blanche for use of the car. "Teens who have to ask for permission to take the car have fewer crashes, better safety records and higher rates of seatbelt use," she says.
Point out unsafe behaviors in other drivers, and discuss why you make certain driving decisions. "Describe what you are doing," says McCormack. "This will give your teen context and rationale for the things that you do automatically based on your more than 20 years of experience behind the wheel."
Model safe driving behaviors. "If you talk on your cell phone, eat lunch, apply makeup and peek at text messages while driving, why should a teen listen to you when you ask them not to do the same?"
Parent-teen driver "contracts" are effectivebecause they make expectations clear upfront. Some common agreements that McCormack likes: not to text and drive, to be home at a certain time, to not drink and drive but also to not get in a car with a driver who has been drinking, and so on. Some parents and teens agree upon a code word that when used the parent agrees to pick the teen up at the party or whatever unsafe situation he or she might be in, no questions asked.
Other tips -- Give teens a 10 pm 'carfew' -- that is, the car needs to be in the driveway by that time. "Most fatal crashes occur at night, so this takes the teen off the road during the most dangerous hours," she says. "'If an adult driver needs to transport the teen after 10pm, that teen will be safer." And talk with other parents. "Agree to enforce these guidelines together. But don't be afraid to be the heavy, or the unpopular parent when needed," suggests McCormack.
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