Is your teen ready to hit the road? More importantly, are you ready for your teen to hit the road? The question is only a little tongue-in-cheek; anticipating your teen being behind the wheel for the first time can be stressful. However, there are conversations you can have with your teen ahead of time that will help him or her be prepared to drive, and will help you to feel comfortable sending your child out on the road.
First, it’s important to know the truth about teens and driving. Teen driver statistics can be alarming, but many accidents can be avoided if your teen engages in safe driving practices. Be aware that 1/3 of teen fatalities are motor vehicle-related. Of those, more are caused by males. Nationwide, 11% of teens in fatal crashes last year were reported to be distracted at the time of the crash. Second, have a conversation (or many conversations) with your teen about safe driving.
Here are a few things you can discuss with your teen before she gets behind the wheel:
- Distracted driving—While distracted driving is definitely not a teen-specific issue, it is a growing problem. Distracted driving is any time the driver has a visual (eyes off road), manual (hands off wheel) or cognitive (mind off driving) distraction. Often teens are susceptible to this because they are likely to be driving with friends in the car and using their phones for music or texting. But, distracted driving can mean doing anything that takes the driver’s attention away from one thing, and one thing only: driving. Having a snack, making a music selection, chatting with friends or paying attention to something outside that’s off the road are all ways to be distracted and an accident can happen in an instant. Studies have shown that hand-held mobile phone use and hands-free mobile phone use are equally distracting while driving, so advise your teen that unless she or he absolutely must make a call, don’t talk and drive. And, there is never a reason to text and drive. Any text (reading or writing) can wait until the driver is off the road. If it can’t, then be sure to pull over before starting a text.
- Alcohol and other drugs: Don’t drink and drive. You’ve probably been hearing those words since you were a teenager yourself, but they can’t be repeated too often. Emphasize to your teen that it’s never okay to drink alcohol or use any illegal (or even legal) substance if she is going to be driving. Prescription and over-the-counter legal drugs can have an effect on one’s ability to drive, so even if your teen is taking simple cold medicine, check the box and make sure that it’s okay to be operating a vehicle. Remember, teens have only been driving for a short time. They don’t have the experience that adults who’ve been driving for years would, and their judgment may fall short. If that lack of experience and judgment is combined with slowed reflexes from medication or alcohol, it could be a recipe for disaster. Of course, drinking is against the law for anyone under 21, but we know that it does happen. Let your child know that if she has been drinking, it’s always okay to call you for a ride home – and have that be the truth.
- Passengers: Part of the fun of being a teenager is having the freedom to go out with friends. But the friends can be a distraction. Talk with your teen about limiting the number of passengers in the car at a time; there should never be more people than there are seat belts. The driver and every passenger should be correctly buckled at all times. Also, remind your teen that her passengers should not engage in unsafe behavior that would be distracting. Loud or sudden noises, loud music or even raucous conversation can be a distraction to a teen driver and should be avoided. Under Oklahoma’s Graduate Driver License law, holders of an intermediate license may only have one passenger or only passengers who live in the driver’s household unless also accompanied by a licensed driver who is at least 21 years old.
- Safety in an emergency: It’s inevitable that even the most responsible driver will eventually have a flat tire or other mechanical trouble. Educate your teen about what to do when this occurs. Be sure that the car is fully stocked with emergency equipment including flashlights, flares, a spare tire, first-aid kit and blankets. It’s also a good idea to have a reasonable amount of cash safely hidden in the car, and have your teen know that it’s for emergencies only. Here are a few tips from AAA on staying safe in an emergency:
- Don’t let your vehicle go below 1/3 tank of gas;
- Stay on main roads and highways;
- If you need to pull over, stay in well-lit areas and away from traffic; and
- Stay inside the vehicle and keep doors locked and windows closed.
Most importantly, let your teenager know that she can call you at any hour if she runs into trouble; you would rather help her out of a jam and have her arrive home safely than be afraid to get “caught” and not make it home at all. Safe travels!
Noble McIntyre is the senior partner and owner of McIntyre Law. The Oklahoma City-based personal injury firm is focused on making the community safer, and is very involved in charity work and Lawyers Against Hunger.