Learning to drive is an exciting time for a teenager, and a stressful one for any and all parents. A driver's license brings freedom and a new level of independence, but it can also bring serious risks. Learning to operate a vehicle under a variety of circumstances takes practice and is a skill that is developed over time. It's no surprise that car crashes are the number one cause of death for teenagers, resulting in six teen deaths every day.
Too often, our sons and daughters are injured or even killed because they are inexperienced drivers, taking unnecessary risks like texting, driving under the influence, speeding and not wearing a seat belt. Our sons make up three out of four teen deaths in car crashes, and the risk of a crash by teen drivers is almost three times higher if their passengers are male.
But parents can play an important role in preventing these tragedies.
According to our study supported by the General Motors Foundation, when parents and teens discuss rules for driving and come to a formal agreement, whether verbal or written, teens are less likely to engage in risky behavior while driving.
For example, teens told us when they have an established family rule against drinking and driving they were 10 times less likely to drive after drinking than those who didn't have an established rule. Teens with explicit family rules were more likely to wear their seat belt every time and were less likely to drive distracted or speed.
What parents do behind the wheel also matters. Teens who saw a parent driving after drinking were three times more likely to report driving after drinking than teens whose parents modeled safe behavior. And we know from past research that teens were more likely to buckle up on every ride if their parents made buckling up a consistent habit from a young age.
Teens also reported that the time they spent practicing driving with their parents was the most helpful. Although legal requirements vary by state, it is recommended that teens get at least 50 hours of experience behind the wheel, under a variety of conditions, before setting out on their own. Having more experience behind the wheel helps new drivers manage driving in the dark and driving with other teen passengers in the car, situations that can increase the likelihood of crashes for young drivers.
As a mother of three, I know that talking to teenagers is easier said than done. Teenagers can be tough and many times it seems the last thing they want to do is listen to their parents. But when it comes to driving, your teens are listening and watching more than you think.
We know from working with the engineers at General Motors that cars today have more technology built in to protect everyone riding in the car, but it is up to every individual - both drivers and passengers - to take advantage of these safety innovations by behaving in safer ways.
Buckle your seat belt, every ride, every time. Don't drive distracted. Don't drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Follow the rules of the road. And for parents with teenage drivers, agree with your teens that everyone will follow the rules.