Help Teens Learn Good Driving Habits
By Lt. Col. John LeBlanc
Executive Director, Louisiana Highway Safety Commission Governor’s Highway Safety Representative
Helping teens learn and practice good driving habits
Any parent of a child that is going or has gone through his or her teenage years knows that this is a period when many lifelong lessons are learned. Every day, teens are bombarded with hundreds of messages through television and radio, movies, social media, their peers and their parents. When it comes to safe driving, parents should make certain that they are being heard above the din of all those other messages.
While most people begin their formal education when they enter school, most don’t learn to drive until their teenage years or later. Some young people learn their basic driving skills by taking lessons through a formal school, while many others learn from their parents.
Even when they’re not in a formal learning situation, teenagers are usually observing their parents and other adults while they are behind the wheel. If you don’t practice safe driving habits, your teenagers are likely to follow suit. Parents play a major role in helping shape their children’s driving habits and most other behaviors. That means that if you don’t wear your seat belt every time you get behind the wheel, your kids could follow your poor example. The same goes for other driving behaviors, such as speeding, distracted and aggressive driving, DWI and running red lights.
Learning to drive and obtaining their first driver’s license is an important rite of passage for most teens. Both parents and teens should recognize that having passed the driver’s license test doesn’t guarantee that a person is a good and safe driver. Being a good and safe driver is a skill that takes years to develop. One only needs to look at statistics to understand that most teenagers do not have the skills and habits that are obtained through experience.
Crash rates involving teens are notoriously higher than that of older drivers. With these elevated rates come higher instances of death and injury. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in America. Teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are three times more likely than older drivers to be in a fatal crash, according to the CDC. Crash risk is particularly high in the first six months after a teen is issued a driver’s license.
Teenage-driving risks are not evenly distributed. For example, the motor vehicle death rate for male drivers and passengers ages 16-19 is almost two times that of their female counterparts, according to the CDC. Also, the presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers, and this risk increases with the number of teen passengers in a vehicle.
In 2012, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available, there were 83 fatal and 7,530 injury crashes involving 16-to-19-year-olds in Louisiana. What makes these statistics all the more painful is that most of these crashes were preventable. Driving while impaired, not wearing seat belts and aggressive driving are the major contributors to motor vehicle crash deaths. We need to do more than just teach our kids safe driving practices—we must set good examples.