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6 tips for keeping your teen driver safe on the road

Emmet Pierce

Among all drivers, teens are at the greatest risk of being injured or killed in car accidents. However, there are steps parents can take to keep young drivers safe behind the wheel.

“If you can educate them, they will make better choices,” says Kelly Browning, executive director of Impact Teen Drivers, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving teen driving. “What makes a car safe is the driver behind the wheel making good decisions.”

keep teen driver safeTeens are prone to car crashes because they lack driving experience, she says. According to the National Safety Council, they are at the greatest risk of being in an accident during their first six to 12 months of driving.

“Before teens get out of high school, 50 percent of them will be involved in a crash,” says Kathy Bernstein, the National Safety Council’s senior manager of Teen Driving Initiatives.

Here are six tips for keeping your teen driver safe.

1. Set a good example.

You may think teenagers don’t pay attention to their parents, but the things you do while driving will influence your children. If you have bad driving habits, they are likely to pick them up. If you allow yourself to be distracted by texting, eating or fiddling with your car radio while you drive, don’t be surprised if your child behaves the same way.

“The No. 1 influencer on teens is their parents,” Bernstein says. “Set the example. Put the cellphone away. Put that seat belt on. Signal when you turn.”

2. Don’t allow a newly licensed teen to carry other teens as passengers.

“If you put a bunch of teens in a car, it becomes a party on wheels,” says Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “It can become a recipe for disaster.”

A study released in September by Texas A&M Transportation Institute examined a decade of U.S. data about fatal accidents in which teens age 13 to 17 were present. Researchers concluded that novice drivers ages 15 to 17 are about eight times more likely than drivers ages 18 to 24 to have a fatal accident when teenage passengers are in the vehicle.

3. Control the car keys.

Bruce Hamilton, manager of research and communications for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, says parents need to monitor their teens’ driving.

“For a teen, driving can feel like a right, but it’s a privilege,” he says.

“At the AAA Foundation, we recommend that the parents sign driving agreements with their teens,” he says. “Parenting a teen can be difficult. Signing a parent-teen driving agreement that stipulates what the rules are going to be and the consequences if they are violated can be a good way to manage the relationship.”

4. Ride along with newly licensed teens.

Hamilton says it’s a mistake to stop tutoring your child on driving after he’s earned his driver’s license. Driver’s education courses don’t provide teens with adequate practice.

The New York State Department of Health recommends that parents spend at least 50 hours supervising their teen’s driving before he or she is allowed to get behind the wheel without adults present. Parents should continue making supervised trips with their teens for six months to a year after they have been licensed, Hamilton says. Teens will learn to drive better in harsh weather if they have a parent with them the first time they drive in snow or in heavy rain.

“Just because a teen can drive independently doesn’t mean a parent must let them,” he says. “It is very important that parents and guardians keep an eye on their teen’s driving and manage it.”

5. Don’t tolerate illegal drugs or alcohol.

If you discover that your teen is using illegal drugs or alcohol, you should suspend his driving privileges until you feel certain he’s changed his behavior. The CDC says 1 in 5 teen drivers involved in fatal accidents during 2010 had alcohol in their system.

In a study released in April 2013, nearly a quarter of 1,708 11th- and 12th-graders who were surveyed admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or illegally used prescription drugs. The survey was conducted by Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and Liberty Mutual Insurance.

6. Don’t phone your teens while they’re driving.

In 2011, more than 3,000 people were killed in crashes where at least one driver was distracted, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Browning says many parents don’t realize they’re distracting their children when they call their cellphones to check up on them while the teens are driving.

“I will hear parents say, ‘My kid knows he can’t talk to anyone while he is driving but me,’ Browning says. “How is that safer than talking to anyone else? Don’t call your kids while they are driving.”

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