Parental Involvement is Most Important In Teen Driver Safety

teen driver (select to view enlarged photo)

WASHINGTON--Oct. 17, 2013: What's the most important factor in keeping young drivers safe on the road? Parental involvement. While developmental and behavior issues coupled with inexperience impact teen crash risk, parents play a critical role in helping teens survive their most dangerous driving years, stressed the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). The reminder comes at the onset of National Teen Driver Safety Week, October 20-26, which this year focuses on teens and parents working together.

The national association, which represents state highway safety offices, recently issued two reports stressing the impact parents have on what their teens do behind the wheel. Promoting Parent Involvement in Teen Driving: An In-Depth Look at the Importance and the Initiatives and Speeding-Related Fatal Crashes Among Teen Drivers and Opportunities for Reducing the Risks both point to graduated driver licensing (commonly known as GDL) as a proven tool to help parents keep their teens safe on the road.

In place in all 50 states, GDL is a three-stage licensing system. The first stage includes a learner or supervised practice driving phase. This is followed by an intermediate stage that allows for unsupervised driving but includes restrictions that address risks for teens such as driving at night, with teen passengers, while using cell phones and other technology, and unbelted. The final stage is full or unrestricted licensure, when all provisions are lifted.

"Graduated driver licensing is responsible for a 20 to 40 percent reduction in teen crashes," said Jonathan Adkins, GHSA's Deputy Executive Director. "But GDL isn't just a state or police program, it's a parent program. When parents understand how and why GDL works to address their novice drivers' crash risk and partner with their teens to enforce the proven provisions associated with these programs, good things happen."

Researchers have found that teens with parents who set driving rules and monitor their activities in a helpful, supportive way are half as likely to crash, 71 percent less likely to drive intoxicated, and 30 percent less likely to use a cell phone when driving. These same teens are 50 percent more likely to buckle up and recognize why doing so is important, and less inclined to speed.

Speeding as a contributor in fatal teen crashes has inched up over the past decade, from 30 percent in 2000 to 33 percent in 2011. As with adults, speeding is the key area in teen highway safety where progress has been lacking. To address this, parents are urged to enforce two key provisions of GDL – nighttime and passenger restrictions. "Newly-licensed drivers, particularly males, are more likely to speed at night and when friends are in the car," noted Adkins. "Parents must recognize this and say no to their teens engaging in these unsafe practices. GDL helps them do that."

In addition to leveraging GDL, GHSA also offers the following tips to promote parents and teens working together:

Focus on building higher order driving skills. Seventy-five percent of serious teen crashes are the result of critical driver error, with driving too fast for road conditions, being distracted and failing to detect a hazard accounting for nearly half. Parents and teens should focus on building skills in four key areas – speed and space management, vehicle handling and hazard recognition. Families are encouraged to seek out guidance from trained professionals and look for programs, such as Ford Driving Skills for Life (Ford DSFL), that provide opportunities for them to participate in hands-on driving events that focus specifically on these skills. Ford DSFL was co-developed by GHSA and is utilized by states across the country.

Use a parent-teen driving agreement. An agreement clearly outlines the rules for new drivers and describes the consequences for failing to comply, while prompting an ongoing dialogue about safety. At a minimum, the agreement should mirror the provisions outlined in the state's GDL program. Parents are encouraged to supplement those provisions with more stringent requirements, particularly if their respective state's GDL program allows teens to transport one or more passengers or drive after 10 p.m. The Ford Driving Skills for Life website, Driving Skills for Life offers tips to help parents.

Attend a parent-teen driving program. Many organizations provide free orientation sessions, often provided at schools or other community-based settings, designed to help parents and teens understand the risks for novice drivers and how their state's GDL program addresses that risk. Currently, four states – Connecticut, Massachusetts, Montana, and Virginia – mandate parent education, while many others provide voluntary training opportunities.

Know and build upon your state's driver education and training requirements. Some states require teens to complete classroom theory, behind the wheel training and/or supervised practice. These requirements and instruction are, however, just the beginning of the learning process. Parents and teens should focus on logging at least 50 hours of supervised driving practice under a variety of conditions. They should also look for opportunities to continue to drive together during the first year of licensure.

Parents and teens are also encouraged to make a daily commitment, through the Celebrate My Drive program, to drive safely during National Teen Driver Safety Week. With each online commitment, registered high schools increase their chances of winning $100,000 or $25,000 grants and a concert by Grammy Award winning artist Kelly Clarkson. Between Oct. 18 and 26, visit Celebrate My Drive Register and encourage friends, family and community members to join in the effort.

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