Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens and that risk climbs even higher during the summer months. More free time, relaxed parental curfews, and less supervision overall combine to create a higher risk for teen driving accidents and deaths when school is out. In 2009, more teens died in the months of July and August than any other months of the year. Below are 10 key safety tips to help your teen stay safe on the road during the summer months.
- Buckle up. Compared with other age groups, teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use and the majority of teens involved in fatal crashes are unbelted. Parents need to set a good example by buckling up themselves and making sure teens know about the importance of using seat belts.
- Put down the phone. Sixteen percent of all teen drivers involved in fatal crashes are distracted. Texting or talking on the phone combined with the inexperience of a teen driver is a recipe for disaster. Set the ground rules early about using phones in the car. The Department of Transportation and Consumer Reports have put together a distracted driving pamphlet outlining six steps parents can take. Download the pamphlet and share it with your teen.
- Limit passengers. Don’t let your teen’s vehicle be the party bus. Friends in the car can be a serious distraction. Limit how many passengers your teen can transport. Most graduated licensing laws already set limits, but make sure you know your state laws or set your own rules. A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that restricting passengers is one area to help reduce fatal teen crashes.
- Slow it down. Parents are the biggest influence on how teens drive. Teen crashes are more likely to involve speeding, especially with male drivers. Make sure your teen knows that driving above the speed limit can lead to a ticket (which they should pay for), insurance rate increase, or even a deadly crash.
- Don’t drink and drive. Teens have a greater risk of death in accidents involving alcohol even though they are below the legal drinking age. They may be less likely than adults to drive drunk, but their crash risk is much higher due to their inexperience with both drinking and driving. Make sure your teen is comfortable calling home if they feel they can’t drive or if they are in a situation where a friend is driving drunk. While parents don’t want to condone drinking, it’s best to keep communication open, so a teen can call for help if necessary.
- Driving at night. In 2009, 17 percent of teenagers' fatalities occurred between 9 p.m. and midnight, and 26 percent occurred between midnight and 6:00 a.m. Reducing night driving is one way to address this crash risk. Parents need to set curfews and be aware of where and when your children are driving.
- Turn it down. Teens love to listen to music, but it’s important to be able to hear the road noises around you. Also, make sure your teen does not drive with headphones on. Encourage them to turn off the radio and focus on the road. It is important to be aware of not only the sights, but also the sounds of the road, as well.
- Don’t drive when you don’t have to. If the weather is bad or your teen is tired or upset, don’t let them drive. Taking unnecessary risks just increases your chance of getting into an accident. And talk to your teen about when it rains-the roads will be much slicker, especially in the earliest part of the storm where a thin coating of water, sand and oil can produce very slippery surfaces.
- Wear comfortable, functional clothing. With the summer here, plenty of teens are walking around in flip flops and while that is fine for the beach, it’s not safe behind the wheel. A flip flop can easily get caught in the brake or accelerator pedal. The same goes for high heels or big boots. Have your teen wear an appropriate pair of shoes behind the wheel and save the fashion statement for later. Sneakers can be left in the car just in case.
- Make sure your teen has a safe and well maintained car. See to it that the car’s tires have plenty of tread left and that pressures are properly set. Make sure all lights work, the brakes are in good condition, and the air bags are functioning correctly (as in, there are no warning lights on). If you can’t afford a new car, a recent model year vehicle will do. (See our list of the best cars for teens.)