Safety Advice for Parents of Teenage Drivers
Auto accidents are the leading cause of teenage death in the United States. Car wrecks kill more than 5,000 teenagers each year. In 2007, more than 7,000 people were killed in wrecks involving teenage drivers. In the same year, more than 250,000 teenage drivers were injured.
Teenage drivers are typically inexperienced, easily distracted, and more careless than adult drivers. What can parents do to reduce the risk that their teenage driver will have an accident? The October issue of the journal Pediatrics includes two articles that suggest advice for parents of teen drivers.
In the article “Primary Access to Vehicles Increases Risky Teen Driving Behaviors and Crashes: National Perspective,” the authors found that 25 percent of teens who had primary access to vehicles had been involved in crashes. Only 10 percent of teenagers with shared vehicle access had been involved in accidents. The researchers also found that, when compared to drivers with shared access, drivers with primary access are more likely to use cell phones while driving and drive over the speed limit.
Why is that? Perhaps teens with primary access to a vehicle tend to think, “This is my car, so I can do what I want” (even if their parents bought the car for them). On the other hand, when teenagers have to ask for the car keys, they’re more likely to be careful behind the wheel, and parents are in a better position to monitor driving habits and behaviors.
A friend of mine waited until a year after her daughter got her driver’s license before she helped her daughter buy a used car. The daughter has never had a wreck or gotten a ticket. If you have a teenager, consider waiting a year or two before buying them a car of their own. They probably won’t be happy with the decision, but it just might save their life (or the life of someone else).
In the other Pediatrics article titled “Associations Between Parenting Styles and Teen Driving, Safety-Related Behaviors and Attitudes,” researchers examined how different parenting styles affect teenage driving. In the study, 50 percent of the parents were authoritative, 23 percent were permissive, 8 percent were authoritarian, and 19 percent were uninvolved. Authoritative parents were defined by high support and high control; permissive parents had high support and low control; authoritarian parents had low support and high control; and uninvolved parents exhibited low support and low control.
Can you guess which parents had the safest teenage drivers? Authoritative parents who offered both support and control had the safest teen drivers. Compared to teens with uninvolved parents, those with authoritative parents had half the crash risk, and they were 71 percent less likely to drive while intoxicated. They were also less likely to use a cell phone while driving. Teens with authoritative or authoritarian parents used seat belts twice as often and reported speeding half as often as teen drivers with uninvolved parents. In this study, there was no significant difference between permissive and uninvolved parents.
The study suggests that parents of teenage drivers should lay down the rules while offering emotional support. Make sure that your teenager is well aware of the risks of driving. Treat your teen like an adult. Work with your teenage driver to develop a written list of driving rules. When your teen breaks a rule, enforce the rules by temporarily restricting driving privileges.
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