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Is Your Teen Making Safe Choices behind the Wheel?

Dan Coon

Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death for teen drivers. Teens need regular reminders about making safe decisions when they’re behind the wheel, especially about never driving if they are impaired.

In 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported there were 4,272 fatalities in U.S. caused by drivers ages 15- 20.  In Washington State alone, teen drivers were involved in 55 fatal crashes and 291 serious injury collisions in 2014. That’s one fatality and five serious injury collisions a week caused by a teen driver.

Of the 4,272 national fatalities, 1,717 were young drivers, and about a quarter of those crashes involved a teen driver who was impaired. During the same year 1,013 passengers died in teen driver collisions and 1,090 people in other vehicles died from crashes caused by young drivers. 

As a parent, you have a powerful influence over your teen’s driving behavior. It’s important not to let up on talking with your teen, and their friends, about the importance of being a safe driver. Continue coaching them to gain more experience, and monitoring where, when and whom they drive or ride with.

  • Driving after using alcohol or marijuana: Under the age of 21, alcohol and marijuana use is illegal. Teen’s need to understand it’s not just a rule for the inexperienced driver. Enforce strict rules against driving after any amount of drinking or drug use.  Help your teen develop a backup plan for when they’re faced with the choice of getting into a vehicle with someone who has been drinking or using marijuana, and stick to your pledge of no questions asked when they call you for a safe ride home. Be a good role model and never drive after using alcohol or other drugs. 
  • Driving with passengers: A teen driver’s crash risk goes up 44% with just one teen passenger in the vehicle and exponentially with more teens in the car. Set limits on when, how many and who can ride with your teen, and enforce them.
  • Driving distracted by cell phones: A recent study by AAA found that 58% of crashes involving a teen driver were due to distraction, including passengers and cell phones. Make a family rule about not using cell phones when behind the wheel that everyone will abide by.
  • Speeding: Speed is a leading factor in crashes of teens and adults. Set a good example by following the speed limit and set strong rules for your teen to follow.
  • Seat belts: Research shows teen safety belt use trails behind adult use.  Be a good example and require everyone in the vehicle to buckle up.
  • Establish a parent-teen driving agreement: Many parents and teens find written agreements help set and enforce clear rules about driving under the influence, cell phone use, following speed limits, night driving, passengers, access to the car, and more. AAA offers a free parent-teen driving agreement on its teen driver safety website, TeenDriving.AAA.com.

TeenDriving.AAA.com has a variety of tools and resources that parents and teens can use for safe driving. The online AAA StartSmart program offers great resources for parents on how to become effective in-car coaches as well as advice on how to manage their teen’s overall driving privileges.

Dan Coon is the former Traffic Safety Programs Manager with AAA Washington and a member of the Washington Healthy Youth Coalition.