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Teens and safe driving

Driving is a privilege, not an entitlement

During the formative years of adolescence, teens test their limits and push their boundaries, often with the expectation of emancipation through a driver’s license.

Driving a car is the riskiest and deadliest adolescent activity. Every year, 5,000 youth die in motor vehicle crashes, which are the leading cause of death for this age group. Early drivers ages 16 to 19 are twice as likely to be involved in a fatal crash than drivers in the 20 to 24 age group. Every year, 450,000 teens are injured in a motor vehicle accident and 27,000 will require hospitalization.

Both parents and teens are responsible when an inexperienced youth gets behind the wheel. Earning a driver’s license is only a first step in becoming a safe and responsible driver. In addition to a lack of experience, youth drivers increase their risk of accidents by engaging in high-risk behaviors, such as driving on dangerous roads, traveling with too many passengers, texting or using a phone while driving, and driving while intoxicated.

Teens may consider driving an entitlement rather than a privilege, disregarding the fact that adolescent accidents are commonly linked to distractions, intoxication from drugs and alcohol, and inexperience or failure to follow traffic laws. Parents have the duty to reinforce driving as a privilege that carries tremendous responsibility.

The American Academy of Pediatrics developed a safe driving agreement that covers many driving concerns for teens and sets rules for avoiding distractions, limiting passengers, obeying traffic laws, and driving drug- and alcohol-free. Visit www.healthychildren.org to access the template.

Two effective ways to prevent adolescent car crashes:

  1. Model safe driving behaviors. Teenagers are highly impressionable, so parents must demonstrate safe driving behaviors. Always put the phone away while driving and never text and drive. Avoid rushed or frantic driving, and never drive over the speed limit. Give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination and observe traffic laws.
  2. Create a driving contract with your teen. For teens, the excitement of driving can overshadow important safety concerns, so put everything in writing with a driving contract or agreement. The contract should address some of the social pressures of driving teens may experience, such as giving friends rides or using the car for speed.

Take the pledge to drive cell-free.

Dianna Inman, APRN, DNP, CPNP-PC, PMHS

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