Teen Drivers

If you have a teenager, he or she will likely want to get on the road as soon as the law permits. For many parents, that’s an understandable nightmare: The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) reports that teenage drivers have high rates of both fatal and nonfatal crashes compared with adult drivers—despite the fact that they spend less time on the road. According to the HLDI, the crash rate per mile driven for 16- to 19-year-olds is four times the risk for drivers age 20 and older.

Many other teenagers die as passengers in motor vehicle crashes. In 2008, 63 percent of teenage passenger deaths occurred in vehicles driven by another teenager. Among deaths of passengers of all ages, 19 percent occurred when a teenager was driving.

Inexperienced teenage drivers often are not able to navigate effectively in emergency situations, inclement weather and darkness and are easily distracted by passengers. Immaturity also lends itself to speeding, texting and cell phone use behind the wheel and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The HLDI reports that young drivers are less likely than adults to drive after drinking alcohol, but their crash risk is substantially higher when they do, especially at low and moderate blood alcohol concentrations.

Fortunately, many states have implemented graduated driving programs, which phase in drivers to full driving privileges as they mature and develop better driving skills. A graduated system includes three stages: a supervised learner's period; after passing the driver test, an intermediate license that limits driving in high-risk situations except under supervision; and finally, a license with full privileges.

At the same time, however, some states and school systems have eliminated or reduced the scope of driver-education programs. Parents would be wise to replace or supplement these programs with instruction from private driving schools. Some of the more advance private programs also provide lessons on vehicle design safety, g-force, control and evasive maneuvers, anti-lock brakes and how to drive in hazardous conditions.

When it comes to teenage driving, parents matter—their awareness of safety, role modeling, correct behind-the-wheel techniques and appropriate behaviors and their instincts concerning their child’s ability to be a responsible and mature driver. If your gut says that your teen isn’t ready, hold off in letting him or her get a full license. Better safe than sorry.

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