Imagine if there was a disease in the United States that was killing 10 teens every day. It would no doubt be a trending topic on social media and a leading story on every major news network, and our political leaders would promise to pour money and resources into fighting the killer.
Unfortunately, something is killing teens in record numbers in this country, yet few people are talking about it. Worse yet, this problem receives little media attention, and it’s certainly not a hot–or even lukewarm–topic among politicians.
So what’s killing teens at such an alarming rate?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in this country. For the ten years from 2006 to 2015, nearly 35,000 teens were killed in car crashes in the U.S., with millions more injured.
As we head into the summer months, we’ll see a spike in teen driving accidents and deaths as teens spend less time in school and more time behind the wheel, often with a car full of friends. No wonder the American Automobile Association (AAA) calls the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day the “100 Deadliest Days” of the summer driving season.
Fortunately, if you’re a parent–or aunt, uncle, grandparent, sibling or friend–of a teen driver, there are steps you can take to help keep your young driver safer on the road this summer, and it all begins with a conversation.
The CDC encourages parents to talk with their teens about the following “Eight Danger Zones” for young drivers, some of which they’re more likely to encounter when driving in the summer.
1) Driver Inexperience
Crash risk is highest in the first year a teen has a driver’s license, so make sure your young driver has at least 50 hours of supervised driving practice on a variety of roads, at different times of day and in all kinds of weather and traffic.
2) Driving with Teen Passengers
Crash risks grow substantially when more teens are in a vehicle. That’s why many states limit the number of passengers allowed with a teen driver via a Graduated Driver Licensing program. If your state doesn’t have a GDL, set your own rules for your teen driver. A good starting point is zero or one passenger for the first six months after they receive their license.
3) Nighttime Driving
The chances of a fatal crash at night are much higher for teen drivers than the rest of the driving population, so establish a before-dark driving curfew for the first six months your teen is licensed, and practice nighttime driving before turning them loose after dark.
4) Not Using Seat Belts
More than half of the teens who died in car crashes in 2014 were not wearing seat belts, according to research from the CDC. Make sure your teen buckles up every trip, whether they’re driving or a passenger.
5) Distracted Driving
Texting while driving can be as dangerous as drinking and driving. But there are plenty of other distractions for teens when they’re behind the wheel, including talking on the phone, eating, listening to music and interacting with passengers (see number 2 above…). Make sure your teen acknowledges and understands what can be a distraction when driving.
6) Drowsy Driving
If your teen can sleep until noon (or later), it’s easy to see why young drivers are more likely to be drowsy and at risk early in the morning or late at night. Know your teen’s schedule and try to make sure he or she has had plenty of sleep before getting behind the wheel.
7) Reckless Driving
Research has shown that the teenage brain lacks the judgment and maturity to fully assess risky situations, so talk to your teen about obeying the speed limit and adjusting their speed to match the driving conditions. You can also use a smartphone app or a device to monitor your teen’s driving behavior.
8) Impaired Driving
Just one drink can impair your teen’s driving ability and increase the risk of a crash or DUI. Talk to your kids about not driving under the influences of drugs or alcohol, and about not getting into a vehicle with someone who’s been drinking or using drugs. And be a good role model yourself: don’t drink or use drugs and drive.
Finally, to reinforce the importance of staying safe behind the wheel during the summer and all year long, consider signing a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement. At the very least, talk to your teens on a regular basis about safe driving. It may save their lives, yours or mine.