As a parent, every time your teen driver gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle can be frightening and nerve-wracking. You want your son or daughter to embrace their newfound freedom, but you also want them to stay safe while driving on busy roads and highways.
Cultivating safe driving habits in teens can aid in dramatically reducing the risk of a child being involved in a car accident.
This is very important considering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists vehicle-related accidents as the leading cause of death among teens in Indiana and across the United States. In one recent year, close to 2,650 teens between the ages of 16 and 19 lost their lives, and another 292,000 sustained personal injuries in motor vehicle collisions. These are tragic statistics, particularly considering that the majority of accidents are entirely preventable.
Indiana has recently enacted new laws aimed at keeping young drivers safe. As of July 1, drivers under the age of 21 are not permitted to use any type of telecommunication device behind the wheel – including hands-free cell phones. Making an emergency 911 call is the only exception to the new law aimed at curbing distracted driving, according to a report by FOX 59 in Indianapolis.
The new law also restricts the passengers young drivers can carry in their vehicles. For the first six months of licensure, all passengers must be 25 years old or older, unless they are family members.
While the new measures are crafted to reduce serious accidents caused by inexperienced teen drivers, parents still play an important role in enforcing these and other rules, as well as setting a good example and fostering safe driving skills.
So, how do you go about talking to your kids about safe driving? How can you help your teen become a safe, responsible driver? Here are some tips for parents of new drivers.
Be a Role Model
One of the most effective ways to instill safe driving habits in your teen driver is to be a positive role model yourself. Children are more likely to follow the example you set than listen to your words, particularly if your words and actions conflict.
Wear your seat belt at all times, obey the speed limit, yield the right-of-way, do not use your cell phone while driving or engage in any other distracted driving behavior, stay a safe distance behind traffic in front of you and never drive aggressively.
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Get Your Teen Driver Education
Most states have graduated driver’s licensing laws that allow new drivers to gain driving experience in a relatively safe environment, before being granted full driving privileges.
In Indiana, teen drivers can obtain a learner’s permit as early as 15 years of age, provided they have completed a driver education class. Learner’s permits are held for 180 days and require 50 hours of supervised driving practice, of which 10 hours must be done during nighttime hours.
Probationary licenses can be obtained as early as 16 years and 90 days of age. Lots of practice and driving experience are key. In some areas, driving schools can be found that offer specific in-class and in-the-field, defensive driving techniques and training geared to teach safe driving behaviors to young people.
If you want your teen driver to be confident and skilled behind the wheel, it is important you exhibit confidence in those skills as well.
Try not to appear nervous when your teenager is driving with you in the car, regardless of how terrified you may feel. Speak calmly while instructing your teen driver and find ways to positively reinforce good driving behavior.
Educate Yourself and Your Teen on the Risks of Teen Driving
Not all parents are aware of the risks teen drivers face. Taking the time to educate yourself, and then your child, on the risks can reduce the danger of a young person being involved in a serious or fatal accident.
Some of the basic risks include:
- Driving at night. Inexperienced drivers are not yet proficient with handling the reduced visibility that occurs at night, with a much higher risk of being involved in a car accident.
- Driving at dusk or dawn. Having the sun in your eyes significantly reduces your ability to see the road ahead and avoid colliding with another vehicle or object.
- Teen passengers. While teens may be excited about having friends ride along, teen passengers have been shown to be a significant distraction to new drivers.
- Inclement weather conditions. Teen drivers will eventually experience rain, snow, fog and other inclement weather while driving. Vehicle handling in these conditions will differ, so teens need to know the importance of slowing down, how to handle a skid and what to do if caught in dangerous weather conditions.