By Sue Hubbard, M.D.
I feel like it was not too long ago that I was talking to my own sons about driving. And at that time Texas did not have a lot of rules about getting your driver’s license, besides being 16 an enrolled in school. (Thankfully, the laws in Texas have changed since then).
After much discussion about the perils of teenage driving and knowing that the death rate due to an automobile accident topped the list for teens, my husband and I came up with a driving contract (that I have shared with too many to count), which clearly outlined the rules and expectations for our sons when they began to drive. I can also remember the oldest looking at the three-page typed contract and announcing, ” I am not going to sign that!” If I remember correctly, my husband’s calm reply was, “OK, then don’t drive.” He is a man of few words, but very convincing.
Fortunately for us, all of our sons did sign the contract, knew the consequences and started off driving our family Suburban. They never had a serious accident, but one son backed into a fence and another hit a car in a parking lot. However, I felt fortunate knowing that was the extent of their accident history.
According to a recent article in The New York Times, there is a time to be a helicopter parent … and that is when your “child” begins to drive. “In 2013, just under a million teenage drivers were involved in police reported crashes, according to AAA,” wrote Bruce Feiler. “These accidents resulted in 373,645 injuries and 2,927 deaths.” These statistics are probably under-reported, and it is estimated that “one in four teens are going to be in a crash in their first six months of driving.” One would hope that these would be minor fender benders, which as we told our sons do count as an accident.
The biggest risk for a new teenage driver occurs when you add passengers to the car. According to Nichole Morris, Ph.D., a principal researcher at the HumanFIRST Laboratory at University of Minnesota, adding one non family passenger to a teenager’s car increased the rate of crashes by 44 percent. That risk doubles with a second passenger and quadruples with three or more.
If your teen is not distracted by their passengers they are likely to be using their phones to stay in touch with their friends – either by texting, talking or checking their various social media sites – all while driving. Although teens will say, “I barely take my eyes off the road,” anything more than two seconds can be deadly. Better to turn off the phone and all notifications before your teen hits the road.
Teens should be reminded that driving is a privilege, and earning more independence can be proven with time and a good driving record. Parents of teenage drivers need to have ongoing discussions about the expectations for obtaining the privilege of driving. Also, they need to be knowledgeable about their states’ laws and enforce those laws. Too many parents of my patients seem to ignore some of the laws, such as limiting passengers in the car. Plus, the adage “nothing good happens after midnight” still stands.
If ever there is a time to be a hovering involved parent it’s when your child begins to drive; it has been proven to save lives.
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award-winning pediatrician, medical editor and media host. “The Kid’s Doctor” TV feature can be seen on more than 90 stations across the U.S. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com. The Kid’s Doctor e-book, “Tattoos to Texting: Parenting Today’s Teen,” is now available from Amazon and other e-book vendors.)
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