In many cases I am the final hurdle before a student experiences that first taste of freedom: independent driving. When we issue school permits to students in that twilight between finishing driver education and turning 16 years old, it is a rite of passage. Not only is this a milestone to adulthood for our students, but it enables parents to give their young driver a bit of responsibility on a known route to and from school before turning them loose on the roads at age 16. At the same time, it usually provides a much needed relief valve for parents that may not know if they are coming and going half the time! There is nothing quite as liberating for parents when a child can drive themselves to and from practice at 6:00 a.m.!
Then, once they turn 16 and get their license, those pesky errands to and from the grocery store will be a thing in the past, since you newly emancipated driver will clamor for the opportunity to run to the store for you (and in all likelihood make several stops both to and from their final destination). All of these are great experiences for our students and children. It helps us out as parents, and it gives the young driver additional time behind the wheel. And if they stop at a friends house on the way home from the grocery store, what is the harm (unless the errand was to pick up a gallon of ice cream)?
At the same time, we need to be sure to remind our students that with their new found freedom does come a great deal of responsibility. Next week is National Teen Driver Safety Week, and with it an opportunity to remind our students about the importance of being safe behind the wheel. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens between the ages of 15-18 in the United States. The Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau outlines these items that can result in accidents among teen drivers:
Alcohol and Drugs: In 2016, nearly one out of five teen passenger vehicle drivers involved in a fatal crash had been drinking. Also in 2016, 6.5% of adolescents ages 12 to 17 were current users of marijuana. Like many other drugs, marijuana effects a driver’s ability to react to their surroundings. Driving is a complex task, and marijuana slows reaction times, affecting the driver’s ability to drive safely. Remind your teen that driving under the influence of any impairing substance could have deadly consequences.
Seat Belts: Wearing a seat belt is one of the simplest ways for teens to stay safe in a vehicle. A total of 569 passengers died in passenger vehicles driven by teen drivers and more than half (54%) of those passengers who died were NOT buckled up at the time of the fatal crash. Even more troubling, in 85% of cases when the teen driver was unbuckled, the passengers were also unbuckled.
Distracted Driving: Distractions while driving are more than just risky—they can be deadly. In 2016, among teen drivers involved in fatal crashes, 10 percent were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. However, according to results of a AAA Foundation study, there is a significant evidence that distracted driving is a much more serious problem than previously known, especially with young drivers ages 16 to 19.
Speeding: In 2016, almost one-third (31%) of all teen passenger vehicle drivers involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash.
Passengers: Research shows the risk of a fatal crash goes up in direct relation to the number of passengers in a car. The likelihood of teen drivers engaging in risky behavior triples when traveling with multiple passengers.
Drowsy Driving: Teens are busier than ever: studying, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and spending time with friends are among the long list of things they do to fill their time. However, with all of these activities, teens tend to compromise something very important—sleep. This is a dangerous habit that can lead to drowsy driving or falling asleep at the wheel.
Statistics provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Please take a few minutes to review these important statistics with your young driver. Independent driving is indeed a liberating feeling for our youngsters. But, they need to be reminded that driving on our roads comes with a great responsibility. Be safe out there!