Teens and safe driving

Alternative names 
Driving and teenagers; Safe driving for teens; Automobile safety - teenage drivers

Information

Learning to drive is a major rite of passage for teens (and their parents). It’s a time of exciting possibilities and achievements. It’s also a time of grave risk.

Driving is fatal for almost 50,000 Americans every year. People between 15 and 24 years old (especially males) have the highest rate of auto-related deaths, even though people in this age group may be smart, skilled, and have great reflexes. A collision is the most likely tragedy to kill or cripple a teenager.

In addition, automobile accidents are a leading cause of death in infants and children. (See infant and child car seats.)

Cars have many important safety features - seatbelts, shoulder straps, headrests, air-bags, padded dashes, safety glass, collapsible steering columns, anti-locking breaks, and a host of other less-recognized improvements.

Regardless, reckless driving still proves a danger to teens.

All new drivers should take a driver’s education course. These courses have been proven to reduce accidents, but they are not enough. Teens often feel like serious accidents will not happen to them. Thankfully, smart teens can take steps to tilt the odds in their favor.
TEEN DRIVING DEATHS FREQUENTLY OCCUR…

     
  • After dark. Automatic reflexes and driving skills are just developing during the first months of driving. Darkness is an extra variable to cope with.  
  • When driving with friends. Teens are safer driving by themselves or with family. They should drive as much as possible with an experienced driver, who can help develop good driving habits. As tempting as it may be, new drivers should wait until they have a consistent, safe driving record before taking friends as passengers. Friends, to the new driver, are a big distraction and a significant liability. (This liability may extend to the parent.)  
  • With recreational driving. For the first 3 to 6 months after obtaining a license, new drivers should try to gain their experience driving for school and work, not for fun.  
  • When not buckled-up. Use safety gear like a pro.  
  • When drowsy. Anyone who is sleepy should stop driving until fully alert. Sleepiness may cause even more accidents than alcohol!  
  • After drinking alcohol. Drinking slows reflexes and impairs judgment. These effects happen to anyone who drinks. So, NEVER drink and drive. ALWAYS find someone to drive who has not been drinking - even if this means an uncomfortable phone call!

REDUCING ACCIDENTS

Parents should discuss “household driving rules” with their teens and help their new drivers stick to them. For example, parents may want to encourage their teens to call without consequence rather than to get in a car with a driver who has been drinking. However, should the parents discover that their teenager has been driving and drinking, the parent might ask the state to suspend the license until the teenager is 18. (In many states the parent must sign for a teenager under 18 to obtain a driver’s license. At any time before the 18th birthday a parent can refuse responsibility and the state will take the license.)

A MESSAGE TO TEENS

These suggestions are not intended to be a punishment, but to prevent accidents, life-long disability, and death. You are worth far more than the inconvenience and hassle.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 8, 2012
by Brenda A. Kuper, M.D.

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