The number one cause of death among U.S. teens is motor vehicle accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In 2017, nearly 2,400 teens in the United States aged 16-19 were killed in motor vehicle crashes, and about 300,000 were treated for injuries. Another way to view that: Six teens aged 16-19 died every day due to crashes, and hundreds more were injured.
As a pediatric physician, I’ve seen a lot of children in motor vehicle accidents because they weren’t wearing seatbelts or succumbed to peer pressure to drive too fast. While these are certainly sobering truths, crashes are largely preventable, especially if parents begin teaching teenagers early on about proper driving etiquette and habits.
Wear Your Seatbelts
Good driving habits begin early, with parents modeling the use of seatbelts and making it a general requirement for the whole family.
When teenagers start driving, there is a lot of peer pressure to break the speed limit and be reckless. No teen should have the privilege of driving their friends or siblings anywhere until they understand safely operating the car is their number one priority. Anything less is unacceptable behavior.
Consider using a free app like Life360 on your phone so you can keep a more watchful eye on your children. You’re able to tell not only where they are, but also how fast they are driving.
Don’t Text and Drive
Strongly discourage distractions such as texting. Texting is bad, but even using a phone while driving can prove distracting.
The possibility a newly licensed teen will crash during their first few months of driving is particularly high — the crash rate per mile driven is 1.5 times higher for 16-year-olds than it is for 18- to 19-year-olds.
Sometimes the driver walks away from an accident but the passenger does not. There is a higher mortality rate to consider for risky behavior — actions do have consequences.
Driving safely is a responsibility you owe to yourself and those around you. It’s a practice to carry throughout your lives. When parents start discussing prevention and safety early on, these situations can be controlled. You help save lives.
Mortality is associated with unsafe driving, but so is morbidity. Some children come out of a car accident and are vegetables for the rest of their lives, suffering severe neurological disabilities. That’s not much of a life compared to what they had before. All of that can occur as a result of a car accident.
Practice Makes Perfect
Teens will continue the habits you help them learn early on. Like nutrition, if you start at a young age, you mold taste buds. The same can apply to driving. If you teach them proper rules, they tend to become habits. So model good behaviors and be the first to turn off your phone and use your seatbelt. It will get your teenagers used to doing the same.
When teens know what is expected, there are fewer questions. Otherwise, they may not believe anything bad will happen to them. They may not have as much fear and may even take more risks. But if they see their parents making good daily habits and decisions, they will largely mirror those.
A Final Thought
You can change your child’s outlook on driving by practicing safe habits as soon as possible. If they are unresponsive or don’t abide by those given guidelines, it should be the parent who decides when they are allowed to drive. Monitor that very closely. If they don’t follow the law, remove the privilege. Do what is necessary at home before lives are taken or the police do it for you. Neither are places you want to be.
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