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Wheel worries
Steer your teen into good driving habits

The riskiest driving times

Nearly 50,000 Americans are killed every year in auto accidents. Young people between ages 15 and 24—especially males—have the highest rate of auto-related deaths. Certain situations, however, make the roads more deadly for teens. According to the National Institutes of Health, teen driving deaths occur more often when:

  • The sun goes down. Driving in the dark and under the glare of oncoming headlights takes experience and skill that a teen driver may not yet have.
  • School is dismissed. Because more teens are on the road, after-school hours are a prime time for teen-driver crashes. According to the American Automobile Association, nearly as many teen fatal car crashes occur on weekdays between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. as on weekend nights.
  • Driving with friends. Teens are safest driving alone or with family members.
  • Distractions abound. Talking on cell phones, applying makeup and eating or drinking take attention from the road.
  • They’re drowsy. Sleepiness is believed to be responsible for more car accidents than alcohol.
  • They don’t wear seat belts. Seat belts save lives, plain and simple.

When it comes to rites of passage, getting a driver’s license is the holy grail of the teenage world. But don’t surrender your parental authority or responsibility along with the keys to the family car. With one teen death occurring on the nation’s roads every 91 minutes, it pays to set some guidelines before your young driver gets behind the wheel. Following these rules for the road can help promote safer driving and ease your mind:

  • Limit access. According to the National Institutes of Health, crash rates are highest during a driver’s first 1,000 miles and six months of driving. Don’t allow independent driving until you’re confident of your kid’s driving skills and experience. This is especially true during inclement weather—rain, snow or fog—or at night.
  • Know where they’re going. Make it clear that your teen may only drive to certain pre-approved destinations—school, track practice or an after-school job. One study shows teens drive more safely when parents restrict driving and keep tabs on their comings and goings.
  • Set strict safety rules. Insist every passenger wears a seat belt, cell phones are off and the driver isn’t tired or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Make it clear that you don’t mind picking your child up from a party, play practice or the movies, if necessary. Set a good example yourself.
  • Restrict passengers. New drivers need their attention on the road, not on pals in the car. A study found the risk of a crash increases with each additional teen passenger. For safety’s sake, don’t allow your teen to drive friends until you’re sure of his or her driving skills and judgment.
  • Discuss the consequences. Explain what actions or punishment will result from breaking any of the rules. For example, speeding or driving without a seat belt will lead to loss of driving privileges for a set time period. Consider restricting access to the car if your teen misses curfew, neglects to pick up a little sister from ballet practice or does anything else you deem unacceptable. Rules are easier to enforce when you discuss them with your teen and write them in a contract.

© 2014 Dowden Health Media