How to Make a Safe Teen Driver

With graduation and summer around the corner, AAA and Volvo want to make sure that parents speak to their kids about safe driving habits.

According to research from the AAA Foundation seven of the 10 deadliest days of the year for teens fall between the holidays Memorial Day and Labor Day. July and August are the deadliest months for 16- and 17-year-old drivers, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

There is growing research by the AAA Foundation and others that the young drivers who engage less frequently in risky driving behavior are those who spend the most time talking about driving with their parents. The research also shows that more needs to be done to encourage those talks on safety: Vehicle crashes are still the leading cause of death for young Americans.

“The research and our experience tells us that the earlier we can get parents engaged in this dialogue and the longer we can keep them engaged, the more likely their teens will be safer drivers,” says Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “But we live in an age where time seems to be at a premium. I’m sure a lot of parents find it difficult to allocate the amount of time to talk with their son or daughter that we would consider ideal.”

He and other experts say there is no better time than this month for parents and teen drivers to talk about driving safely.

So what, exactly, is “The Conversation” that parents should have with their young drivers? What should they say? And when and where should it occur? It’s not so much a single conversation as a series of conversations, experts say, and it should begin sooner than many think. Dennis Durbin, a Philadelphia specialist in the prevention of teen driver crashes, says he started talking about driving with his son, Jack, when Jack was 13. But before parents can have a meaningful discussion about driving safety, they should educate themselves about the realities of teen driving, experts say. For example, many parents think drunken driving is the main threat to teen drivers, Duchak says; driver error, speeding and distractions are bigger problems.

The Conversation

For many parents the conversation can be based around the rules of safe driving for teens required by each state’s Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) laws. Also, many insurance companies provide parents with safe driving contracta, which children and parents can review together and sign.

It is very important to revisit the safe driving conversation many times with your teen. Once the teen is driving independently, parents should continue the conversation. “It should be, at a minimum, monthly,” says Henry Edinger, chief customer officer at the Travelers insurance company. “There’s a slow degradation in the thought process if you don’t revisit it.” As well it is important to ride with the teen periodically — to assess how they’re doing and make sure they aren’t backsliding.

Perhaps most important, experts say, is that parents actually model the behavior they’re trying to instill. Several studies, including ones by AAA and Allstate foundations, have shown that many parents take a “do as I say, not as I do” approach with their teen drivers. They acknowledge that behavior such as talking on cellphones, fiddling with the radio or even breaking the law is dangerous; but large percentages admit to doing these things while their children are in the car.

In an April AT&T survey of 1,200 teens ages 15-19, 77% said adults tell kids not to text or e-mail while driving, yet 41% reported seeing a parent text while driving.

Surveys, such as one this year by Harris Interactive for insurer State Farm, consistently show many teen drivers use cellphones or text while driving. A recent study by the California Office of Traffic Safety showed cellphone use among 16- to 25-year-olds doubled from 9% to 18% since last year.

“The teens today that are doing this are the ones who watch their parents do it,” says Jennifer Smith, teen-driving-safety advocate and parent who puts on distracted-driving seminars for teens and others.

Blog post derived from the following online USA Today article: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-04-24/teen-driving-safety-conversation/54941864/1

California State Graduated Driver License: http://driversed.com/dmv/california/California-GDL.aspx

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