What You Can Do to Keep Your Teen Safe While They Are on the Road (page 6)
This article is written for you, Mom and Dad. It's purpose is to help you prevent what is often a thoroughly preventable teen driving crash. Let's first look at what parents often misunderstand about teen driving, starting with the laws that exist to protect your teen.
Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Laws
GDL laws are now in effect in every state in the country. They are designed to prohibit the most risk-laden driving situations for novice drivers, allowing them to gain experience and gradually be exposed to greater risk as they learn.
Allstate Insurance's "Under Your Influence" survey of 1,000 parents is published at this web site, with the kind permission of Allstate. You can find it here in its entirety. The survey results are shocking because they show how little parents know about teen driving risks...and how parents fail to take the actions needed to prevent crashes.
For example, the survey shows less than one third of parents believe teens are good drivers. Yet nearly nine in 10 parents say that their own teen can drive safely. This "not my teen syndrome" gives parents a false sense of security as parents embark on what may be the most dangerous phase of child-rearing.
When it comes to understanding laws associated with novice drivers, Allstate reports that 93 percent of parents believe they can teach their kids to drive, yet three in five have never heard of, or are only vaguely familiar with, Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws. Most parents, unaware of GDL laws -- which are designed to minimize a novice driver's exposure to the highest risk driving situations -- allow the exact behaviors that the laws are designed to prohibit. In simple language, ignorance of the laws puts young drivers at risk!
For example, nine in ten parents will allow their teens to drive after dark, even though crash rates skyrocket after 9PM; 77 percent allow teens to drive or ride with other teens in the car, which multiplies crash risk by up to 500 percent. Some 70 percent allow their teens to drive in bad weather even without having had experience on slippery, wet or icy roads.
You can immediately get up to speed on GDL by opening this document (PDF format) provided by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (www.iihs.org. It shows you, at a high level, what the laws are in your state. Let's take a moment to review.
The Learner's Permit Phase
GDL in most states require youngsters to begin with a Learner's Permit, usually at age 15 or 16. This level of licensing must be held for a specific length of time, the "Mandatory Holding Period," usually six months. Why? Because during the Learner's period, teens are learning to drive. That's why parents are required by law to drive with their teens for a specific number of daytime and nighttime hours -- usually 30 to 50. Many states require parents or guardians to submit an affidavit certifying that they and their teen have, in fact, done that practice driving.
What goes wrong here? Sadly, in many cases parents put their teens into a driver's ed school and assume that they will learn enough to drive safely. A great deal of research has shown that conventional driver's ed classes, consisting of 30 hours of classroom time and just six hours behind the wheel, do not result in safe driving. That's counter-intuitive, but true. Researchers find that driver's ed has the overall effect of putting more drivers on the road at an earlier age, causing more crashes than if those youngest drivers were not driving. So on a macro level, driver's ed is actually a contributor to crashes!
That may be even harder to believe when you realize that most insurance companies offer premium discounts for teens who complete driver's ed. Why would they do that when driver's ed doesn't reduce crash rates? (Actually, Allstate was the first carrier to offer discounts to students who completed driver's ed -- in 1952. That was long before the problems with driver's ed were known. Now, after 50+ years, this discount has become a "must give" for carriers who want to remain competitive -- or so we believe.)
If you want to read some of the research on driver's ed, you'll find it here. (This documents a landmark study held in DeKalb County, Georgia, during the 1970's that showed the ineffectiveness of driver's ed in reducing crashes...which eventually led the Federal government to withdraw funding for highschool-based driver training programs. That's why parents growing up in the 60's and 70's can remember taking driver's ed in highschool...but those coming later had to find it at a private training school.)
What else goes wrong at the Learner's level? Sadly again, parents sometimes don't actually spend the amount of time required by law practicing driving with their teen. They assume that their teen is "doing OK" behind the wheel and just don't finish their job.
What You Can Do at the Learner's Permit Level
- Enroll your teen in driver's ed to learn the rules and laws in your state. We're not saying driver's ed isn't worthwhile. In fact, a quality driving school can create a strong foundation for parents to build on. But it's just not enough to assure safety. At the least, teens will vividly remember the things that will cause them to lose their driver's license. These include:
-- Drinking and driving (zero tolerance for blood alcohol content in most states).
--Using drugs and driving (same penalties as alcohol)
--Dropping out of school or missing a certain number of days.
- Drive with your teen to assure you're meeting the practice time required by law. Don't be shy about extending the practice period for another 10, 20 or 40 hours if you don't feel your teen is ready to drive alone. After all, just the required 30-50 hours over the six month license period isn't really enough to prepare a youngster for a lifetime of safe driving.
- Enroll your teen in a defensive driving course if you can. Many conventional driver's ed programs have optional defensive driving programs. Some use simulators that can actually put your child "virtually" in harm's way over and over again. Then, when they are behind the wheel of a real car, they'll have had the experience that helps them recover from a dangerous situation because they've practiced it many times over. (See the April 2007 Newsletter at this site to read a Mom's story about how her son attributes simulator training to saving his life and that of his passenger.)
- Sign a parent-teen driving agreement with your son or daughter. You might say "that's silly," but research shows having a written agreement, and enforcing it, reduces the crash rate and keeps young drivers alive. You can find a Safe Teen Driving Pledge at this web site. If you care to look for a different one, just Goodsearch here to find others. Insurance companies and most states offer contracts for you and your teen. The important issue is not which one you use; it's that you use one.
The Intermediate License Phase
When a teen is ready to drive alone, without a parent or guardian in the car, he moves to the Intermediate level license. This stage usually lasts until at least age 17 or 18 and includes a night driving restriction, usually starting at 9 or 10PM. Most states also have a restriction on carrying teenage passengers, usually allowing no teenage passengers, or no more than one.
Here's why. Teens have far more crashes at night than during daylight hours. This is statistically proven over and over again. During the intermediate phase, your teen is still learning to drive. (Yes, it does take many months and even years to learn safe driving!). GDL law generally prohibits night driving until the youngster has gained enough experience to handle limited visibility situations after sundown. The Allstate study noted above shows that 90 percent of parents will let their teens drive at night! What's worse, few police jurisdictions will treat a curfew violation as a "primary enforcement" issue. They rarely pull a teen over and cite him or her "only" for driving after curfew.
The second major restriction -- on carrying other teens in the car -- is also easy to understand. Teens who drive with other teens in the car have more crashes. Adding two or more teens to the car increases the chance of a crash by up to 500 percent according to many studies. Teens distract other teens. It's that simple.
Go to the ANSWERS section of this website and find the NEWSLETTERS link. Download the January 2007 Newsletter. Read the scary and shocking things teens said they do when they're together in the car. It's no wonder that tragedies often include not one but several teen deaths from one crash. Allstate finds that 77 percent of parents let their teens ride or drive with other teens in the car! Again, police treat this violation as a "secondary enforcement" issue, so you can't expect any help from the police in keeping your teen safe.
What Goes Wrong Here? As the Allstate survey shows, too many parents don't know the GDL laws. Some know them, but don't enforce them. This is where parents can make a huge difference. Driving alone for the first time is an exhilirating experience for most youngsters. They feel confident, and for many that first solo drive is a peak-experience, in the words of Abraham Maslow.
But did you know: beginning to drive solo is the most risky time of any? That's when Mom or Dad are no longer in the car, watching traffic and giving advice and direction. It's the time when he's likely to turn the radio on full blast, or play with his iPod or cell phone when he's driving. Driving alone is a wonderful feeling of autonomy. Teens report that they feel "more adult" when they're driving.
Keep in mind: the driver's ed class she took only prepared her to pass the DMV test. It didn't make her a safe, careful driver. She's on her own and lovin' it. But she's very likely to crash the car. The first 1,000 miles and 12 months of driving are extremely risky. According to the National Safety Council:
- The chance of one crash in the first three years of driving is 89.2%
- The chance of two crashes in the first three years of driving is 52.5%
- The chance of three crashes in the first three years of driving is 13.3%
What You Can Do at the Intermediate Permit Level
- Learn the GDL restrictions in your state on driving curfew. Make it a part of your family's driving rules. Feel free to extend the curfew period if you like. Setting it at 9PM is safer than setting it at 10PM. Use your best judgment, but be sure your teen understands the reason for the curfew, and that you enforce it.
- Learn the GDL rules in your state on passenger restrictions. Explain to your son or daughter that driving with other teens in the car is not permitted, and tell her why. Make it stick. Don't be one of the 77 percent that just don't know, or perhaps just don't care. These laws are based on years of research and are all aimed at keeping teen drivers alive.
Crashes that make national news are usually the most tragic -- where four or five youngsters die. Yet fatal teen crashes occur at the rate of about 16 every day, and teen injuries from car crashes happen at the rate of about 35 every hour! One of the AAA research organizations reported that, on average, every fatal teen crash kills two other innocent people -- usually passengers and other motorists.
We don't like to think about these things. We trust our kids. We think "it can't happen to me." They're good kids. We love them. But when they start to drive, parents enter the most dangerous phase of the entire child-rearing process. If you know that driving is the number one cause of teen and child death, let's get busy and do something about it -- starting at home.
- We encourage you to learn the GDL laws in your state.
- Enforce them in your family. It will make a difference!
- Sign a parent-teen driving agreement that lays down your family driving rules.
- Put a driving monitor in the car for the first year. It will help you coach and teach your teen where he needs to make adjustments and corrections. It could keep him alive.
- Stay tuned for an upcoming national program, 911 FOR PARENTS. Shortly we'll be rolling out a whole package of new information, along with safety products that are proven and validated by research in reducing crashes. This program will also include access to experts on parenting, child-rearing, driving advice and much more.
- And finally, get more detail on the specific laws that apply to you and your teen by visiting your state's DMV web site. The GDL summaries we've discussed here are general in nature. Laws do vary from state to state.
Most important of all: Keep 'em safe. We're here to help.
P.S. - If you live in one of these states, extra caution is in order:
Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina
GDL laws are legislated state by state. There are national guidelines that outline what GDL should do for teen drivers. But each state has latitude to pass its own laws. The states above are rated "Marginal" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, meaning that GDL laws are not as comprehensive as they should be to optimize the safety of young drivers. If you live in one of those states, it's even more incumbent upon you to set driving rules for your teen. We recommend a parent-teen agreement at minimum (see above) and a suitable monitoring unit that allows you to coach your youngster as he or she learns to drive.
Reprinted with the permission of the Safe Teen Driving Club. © 2008 Safe Teen Driving Club, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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