For California teenagers, their 16th birthday means the freedom of the road. For parents of those teenagers, age 16 is the beginning of increased insurance costs and sleepless nights. Do parents of teenage drivers have reason to be worried? The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s new report on driver distraction says yes. As a personal injury attorney, I have seen first-hand the devastation distracted teenage driving can cause.
We know that driving while distracted puts lives at risk. Yet distracted driving has become an epidemic, and for teens who are more easily distracted and are inexperienced drivers, the risks can be deadlier.
What are the “100 Deadliest Days” for Distracted Teenage Driving?
Most people assume cell phones are the primary cause of distracted teenage driving. While young drivers are distracted by their phones, you might be surprised to learn they are not the main distraction. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research study found the number one distraction for teenage drivers are actually passengers in the car.
The study focuses on the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day, long referred to by AAA as the “Summer Driving Season.” Now it is also being called the “100 Deadliest Days” because of the dramatic increase in fatal crashes during that time. Deadly collisions increase 16 percent, averaging 10 fatal crashes a day nationwide.
An increase in summer month crashes when more adults and teens are on the road may not be surprising. But the breakdown of those accidents is revealing. According to the AAA study, 60 percent of all distracted teenage driving crashes were the result of passenger distraction. This was the number one cause of teen accidents and 15 percent of all collisions. By comparison, distracted driving crashes caused by cell phones represented just 12 percent of all collisions.
The victims of teenage driver crashes are often passengers in the teen’s car, or occupants of another vehicle. The consequences and emotional impact; however, are felt by everyone.
Ways to Prevent Your Teen from Becoming a Victim
Parents of teens experience mixed emotions when their child gets behind the wheel of a car. Our biggest concern is for their safety. So what can you do to minimize the risk of your child causing a collision, or being injured in a friend’s car? Consider the following tips to help keep your teenager safe:
- Insist on a reputable driver education course – Prospective drivers in California, under the age of 18, must complete a driver education course to get a license to operate a motor vehicle. You can find help selecting the right course for your teenager by going to the California Department of Motor Vehicles website.
- Practice makes perfect – The more practice a teen driver has before going solo, the better driver he/she will be. The time you invest in supervised driving sessions will more than pay off when you finally hand the keys to your teenager. AAA offers a wide variety of coaching materials for parents of teen drivers.
- Eliminate distractions – Any distraction while driving can be dangerous. California law prohibits drivers under 18 from using a cell phone, even hands free. In addition, passengers are restricted for the first year. Insist your child obey all restrictions. Encourage your teenager to avoid other distractive behavior, such as eating or grooming.
- Create a “driving agreement” – Before you hand over the keys, create a “parent-teen driving agreement” setting forth the rules, conditions, restrictions, and consequences related to your teen’s driving. If your teen breaks a rule, he/she will lose driving privileges for a specified period of time. Conversely, responsible driving might be rewarded with additional driving time or extended hours with the family car. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a sample agreement on their website.