Summer can be dangerous for young drivers

July and August can be the two deadliest months for young drivers in Washington state. According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, 1,003 fatal crashes involving drivers age 16-25 occurred in the state between 2004 and 2008, with more than 20 percent of those occurring in July or August.  Ten percent of those happened in Pierce County (114) deaths and involved factors speeding and distracted/inattentive driving.

Traffic accidents are the number one killer of teens.  In Washington state, drivers age 20 and younger were involved in more than 23,000 crashes in 2010, resulting in 72 fatalities and nearly 8,000 injuries, according to the Department of Transportation.

“Summers should be a carefree time for our kids, not a time for tragedy,” said Graham Tash, President at Titus-Will Ford in Tacoma, who tries to ensure that his customers are aware of the vehicle technologies and information resources available to help parents try to keep their teen drivers safe.

Teen-safety technologies include MyKey, a feature available in most Ford vehicles that allow parents to program a key that sets top speed and audio volume limits while their teen drivers are behind the wheel.  MyKey’s “no belts-no tunes” feature helps encourage teens to use the top life-saving device – seat belts – by muting the audio system if the driver or front-seat passenger don’t buckle up.

Newer MyKey updates include a Do Not Disturb feature that allows parents to block incoming calls and deter text messages while teens are behind the wheel.

Tash also recommends that parents of teen drivers follow tips such as the ones provided by the National Safety Council.

Tip #1:  Make sure your teen practices – a lot. Inexperience is a leading cause of teen crashes.  Make sure your teen has practice behind the wheel – the more practice, the better.  Start off driving during the daytime, then gradually add in practice at night and in inclement weather.

Tip #2:  Know the risks your teen faces behind the wheel. There are three factors that contribute to teen crash risk:

  1. Inexperience
  2. Teen passengers in the vehicle
  3. Nighttime driving

Research shows that increasing practice time, limiting the number of passengers in your teen’s vehicle and restricting nighttime driving will all contribute to keeping your teen safe.

You should also require your teen to wear his or her safety belt while driving, and require that all passengers in the vehicle wear their belts as well. Finally, do not allow your teen to use a cell phone while driving, under any circumstances.  Research shows regulating these factors will keep your teen alive and help your teen become a safe driver.

Tip #3:  Set clear, reasonable rules – and stick to them. As a parent, you’re used to setting rules and following up with consequences if your expectations aren’t met. But driving is different – the risks of driving are huge, so rules should be very specific.

That’s why communication is key. Keep an open dialogue with your teen and discuss your rules. Use a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement to outline both of your expectations and set consequences if they aren’t followed.

Tip #4:  Don’t declare victory too early. So your teen has been through driver’s education, you have practiced driving with your teen in the vehicle and now he or she wants to get a provisional driver’s license. You might think your work is done – but it isn’t. Make sure your teen is ready for the next step, and keep communicating your expectations.

Tip #5:  Remember that teen motor vehicle crashes are deadly. More than half of parents know that motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens – yet they talk to their children about the dangers of smoking and drugs at a younger age, according to The Allstate Foundation. Act proactively and speak to your teen before a tragedy occurs. Aside from potential financial damage, there are far worse consequences to your teen being involved in a crash. Don’t let your child become one of the thousands of people who die in teen driver-related crashes every year.

And remember – your teen is at risk just like anyone else. Assuming that your child is invincible can be deadly.