As a King County car crash attorney witnessing the intense danger the roads offer I fear for the day when my two young children will take to the road. The inexperience of teen drivers creates a great hazard on the roads. With car accidents being the number one cause of death among this younger age group all we can do is attempt to increase driver education and instill better driving habits before they take the wheel alone.
There are a few different reasons for the high number of teen car accidents the most prevalent being inexperience. Without the years of experience built up teens are unfamiliar with how much space is needed to come to a complete stop, when it is safe to go through a yellow light, how slippery the roads are on the first rain in hot weather, what an appropriate speed is for a corner etc. There is another problem common to teens called the invincibility complex- perhaps after watching a variety of super hero shows and being engulfed in the Twilight saga teens think that they are indestructible or immortal and the dangers do not apply to them. With this invincibility comes a need for speed, reckless driving and racing. Though these appear to be roadway blocks that your child will simply have to grow out of there are some steps you can take to help curtail these hazardous behaviors and make your child a safer driver.
1.Safety First- Teaching and enforcing proper vehicle safety is imperative to having a responsible teen driver- the teaching doesn’t stop with home, however, you should have your teen trained by professionals as well.
- Choosing a Drivers-Ed Course: There are many different drivers’ education courses out there, but they are not all the same. Though the after school programs are convenient it is important for your child to experience a class that teaches more than the basics. Defensive driving schools go beyond the “how-to’s” of operating a vehicle and obeying traffic laws to teach students the proper way to deal with adverse weather conditions and how to avoid accidents. A lot of these classes even use reproduction methods of teaching in which they reproduce adverse conditions and give the student experience driving in those conditions in a safe and controlled environment. Students who take these types of course have far fewer instances of accidents than those attending typical drivers training.
- Seat Belt Safety: The invaluable service seat belts provide in saving lives has been known for decades and laws are in effect nationwide enforcing their use. In spite of this, a great number of teens refuse to wear a seat belt- in fact 60% of teens killed in auto accidents were not wearing a seat belt. Seat belt usage must start from an early age, it must be practiced by the parents and it must be enforced as a rule. Kids learn from example from a very early age- if you engrain the necessity of seat belts in their head from infancy it will be second nature to them as a teen driver.
- Choosing a Vehicle: Do not buy your child a brand new SUV or Sportscar, in fact, avoid these types of vehicles all together. Teens and fast cars or cars easily tipped over do not mix. Pick a used vehicle with a decent safety record, small enough to be easily navigated. Choose a brand with a history of reliability and make sure the vehicle has been kept up- there is nothing more stressful than having your car die in the middle of an intersection.
- Keep the Vehicle Maintained: oil changes, tire rotation and regular tune ups are all important in ensuring your child’s safety. With their inexperience teens often can’t tell if something is wrong with their car such as- when the breaks are going bad or a tire is low in air. As a parent you must monitor these things while teaching your child the warning signs.
2.Distracted Driving-Distracted driving continues to be a problem among teenagers whose cell phones serve as a lifeline and enjoy some lighthearted gossip with talking with their friends in the passenger seats. These problems can be solved through a few basic rules.
- No Cell Phones: restrict cell phone use while in the car- your teen should not be talking or texting while behind the wheel. But you must also follow this rule- teens are sensitive to hypocrisy and adults have actually been found to be more guilty than teens of texting while driving.
- Limit the Number of Passengers: Most states have limits as to how many passengers a new driver can have in their vehicle- make sure this is a house rule as well. Teens most often are involved in accidents when other teens are in the car.
3.Watching the Road
- Observing ones surroundings- help point out road hazards whenever you drive with your teen things such as…
*The traffic ahead- a lot of drivers limit their focus to the car directly in front of them rather than expanding beyond that and being prepared for upcoming slows and stops. A driver should always pay attention to the cars 3 or 4 lengths up
- *Animals on shoulder- watching for deer and even cattle in free range zones is very important. If it is an area known to have a lot of deer, elk or other large animals with a tendency to jump out in the road be sure to point these areas out and teach your teen to always watch the sides of the road, particularly at night when visibility is limited.
- Blind Spots: Make sure your teen is always checking blind spots before changing lanes- this should be something you, as a parent, check for every time you ride with them.
- Proper Mirrors Usage: sadly, teens rarely know how to use their mirrors properly to monitor traffic. Help your teen adjust and use their mirrors- instructing them what they should be able to see through the mirror.
- Hands on the Wheel: Hands should always be at 10:00 and 2:00- this allows for maximum control of the vehicle and helps prevent the risk of breaking wrist bones in an accident.
- Get them acquainted with their vehicle: through experience your teen will learn their vehicles ins and outs- your job is to give them that experience and point out what their vehicle is saying to them… Help them become familiar with the breaks and stopping distances. Help them become familiar with acceleration speed. No matter how scary it seems they will be pulling onto so busy highways and will need to know how fast their car can move.
- Don’t Speed: talk about the consequences of speeding with your teen- outline what consequences will await them at home if they do get a speeding ticket.
- Be Careful of Adverse Weather Conditions: defensive driving classes can help significantly with this, but you should give your child a chance to get used to safe driving conditions before allowing them to attempt the unsafe. Also make sure you ride with your child in conditions such as rain, and snow so they may have the comfort of a parent in the vehicle while adjusting to the changes.
- Driving after dark is a completely different experience from driving during the day. The road hazards are increased- visibility is low, there are more drunk drivers and animals are haunting the road ways with the liability of jumping into the road at any moment. The only way to prepare your new driver for these conditions is through practice- give your teen the opportunity to drive at night frequently with you in the car pointing out the hazards. When your student first receives their license set a curfew to ensure they will be home before the roads get too hectic until they can adjust and be ready for nighttime driving.
- Make sure your child is equipped for any common road dangers or emergencies. Keep an emergency kit in the car and teach them how to deal with hazards such as- changing a tire, filling a tire properly with air and what to do if their car breaks down at the side of the road or in an intersection. For tips on preparing your teen for road hazards see my article: Preparing YOUR Teen for the Road.
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