Car accidents are the number one cause of death for teenagers. Teenagers make up only 6.6% of all licensed drivers and drive only 3% of all miles driven by all drivers. Yet they are involved in 16% of the 1.8 million accidents occurring every year. Accidents involving teen drivers kill 8,000 people a year, of which 3800 are the teen drivers themselves. Another 324,000 teens are injured in accidents every year, costing insurance companies $32,000,000,000.
Many of these accidents are simply the result of driver inexperience. If the driving age were raised to 30 years, there would be a lot of accidents in that age group. According to insurance statistics, one in five drivers has a car crash during his or her first two years of driving. There is a campaign called "ALL New Drivers are Idiots" in British Columbia, where new drivers have to post a red L for "Learner" on their cars for their first 24 months.
What can parents do to protect their new driver?
1) Insist on fifty hours behind the wheel training.
Some states are already mandating more behind-the-wheel training because it works to prevent car crashes. In California, parents have to attest that they spent fifty hours in a car with the teen driver before he or she gets a license. State Farm Insurance has a "Steer Clear" program in which parents and teens record every hour spent in driving training. After you complete "Steer Clear," your teen qualifies for an insurance discount.
In many states, high school students typically get thirty-six hours of classroom and six hours behind-the-wheel instruction. Currently, there are movements to reverse that into 36 hours of behind-the-wheel training, and six hours in a class.
When you teach your teen to drive, practice in a variety of places such as parking lots, highways, winding roads and city traffic, as well as under a variety of weather conditions. Practice ten percent of the time at night.
2) Don't allow your new driver to transport other teens for the first six months.
This rule is based on studies that most teen accidents occur when a new driver is hauling passengers, and that the more passengers, the more likely an accident. Teen traffic fatalities have been cut in half in states like Pennsylvania, where there is a law against teen drivers having passengers for their first six months of driving.
Passengers are a distraction, as are cell phones. People who use a cell phone when driving have a four times greater chance of getting into an accident.
3) Don't allow your new driver to drive between midnight and 5 A.M.
This law was passed in California and other states, and it has cut the number of traffic deaths since most accidents occur during those hours. Parents also report that they love the "pumpkin rule" because it means their kids keep a midnight curfew or risk losing their licenses.
4) Make a written contract with your teen.
Some child psychologists recommend a written contract that includes the above rules, as well as no-brainers like you have to wear a seat belt, you have to pay for gas and insurance, you can't use drugs or alcohol, and you have to keep the car clean.
Other tips: Let your teen use the family car for the first six months (you'll have more control). Bigger cars are safer in a crash, although certain utility vehicles are more likely to roll over. Don't buy a teen a high performance car.
No matter how crazy our teenager's driving makes us, we have to balance our fears with the fact of driving. Driving is a necessity in most parts of the country. We might also remember the wonderful joy and freedom we felt when we first got behind the wheel. That was quite a day, it was an important rite of passage -- for us and for our own teenagers.