Times and technology change, but parents worrying about their teenagers getting behind the wheel is eternal. A combination of communication, preparation and technology can help.
It’s no wonder parents start to sweat a bit when their kids are old enough to get a driver’s license. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, distracted driving was a factor in 58 percent of all crashes involving a teenage driver. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that six teens between the ages of 16 and 19 die from motor vehicle injuries every day, so it’s natural for parents to worry about creating a safe driving situation for teens. Sometimes, that means looking in a mirror.
“Some parents don’t understand that they are actively contributing to the problem,” says Mel Taylor, mother of three and president and CEO of splitsecnd, a Nashville-based technology company whose products offer crash detection, emergency assistance, and vehicle monitoring. “Forty-nine percent of parents text and talk while driving.”
“I’ve talked to my kids about how to handle your car,” says Diana Jackson, stepmother to twin 16-year-old girls in Tennessee. “But my husband and I realized we have gotten our phone out at a stoplight occasionally to text and drive, and we made sure to stop all that.”
Jackson has splitsecnd installed in her daughters’ cars and likes that it requires just a 12-volt outlet. “Their car is older and doesn’t have as many safety features as I would like, so the fact that you can just install it into an older car makes you feel so much better.”
While technology can help parents stay informed about their teens’ driving habits, they’re up against more than technology — they’re up against human nature.
“If you’re under 25, it’s the leading cause of death — it’s worse than the next three things combined,” explains Paul Atchley, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Kansas. “The parts of our brain that stop us from engaging in bad behaviors — the inhibitory system — don’t get fully developed until people are in their 20s.”
If you’ve got teenagers about to get behind the wheel for the first time, what can you do to create a safe driving environment for them? Here’s the rundown:
1. Don’t assume
“Parents may think that their child is sensible, so it’s not going to be an issue,” says Taylor. But as Dr. Atchley points out, teenage brains aren’t fully developed.
Talking to your teen about safe driving and being honest about your concerns and the statistics is very effective against unsafe driving.
3. Understand triggers
“Young people find texting rewarding,” says Taylor, “their body becomes conditioned to want it and they automatically react and reach out — regardless of if they are behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.”
4. Use technology
Devices that track location, detect accidents and advise parents about contacting their teen can prevent parents from being part of the problem.
5. Motivate and educate
It’s important to make safety a central part of the experience of learning to drive. “The girls got a lot of scary information from Driver’s Ed,” says Jackson. “They have you watch all those videos—it really did stick with them. And then we balance that by making them feel confident behind the wheel.”
6. Offer incentives
Taylor keeps it simple in her own home. “The incentives, for me, are respect and privilege. If I can see that you have good driving habits, then you’ll have more freedom to come home a half hour later than usual.”
7. Be the inhibitor
Atchley says it’s up to parents. “You’ve got to be the inhibitory system — the thing that helps your teens to not engage in bad behaviors.”
8. Lead by example
“Put your phone away,” Taylor advises other parents. “When you are driving, focus on driving.”
Safe driving for teens boils down to parents knowing the dangers and risks, teaching kids safe driving practices and leading by example.