The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently announced a new safety campaign to reduce the rate of fatal auto accidents among teenage drivers. The campaign, called “5 to Drive,” encourages parents to discuss one safety topic each day with their teenage children. The five topics are:
- Refraining from cell phone usage, including text messaging
- Refraining from carrying passengers
- Obeying the speed limit
- Refraining from alcohol consumption
- Wearing a seat belt at all times while driving or riding
Auto accidents are the number one killer of American teens, according to the NHTSA. In 2011, 2,105 teens lost their lives on U.S. roads.
The good news? That number represents a huge improvement over the course of the last few years. From 2007 to 2011, the number of teen driving fatalities has fallen by 43 percent. Unfortunately, some markers have remained steady during this time period, including the percentage of teen drivers killed in auto accidents with positive blood alcohol concentrations (27 percent), the percentage who were speeding when they died (35 percent) and the percentage who were unrestrained (53 percent).
The NHTSA also says that distraction was a factor in 12 percent of fatal crashes involving teen drivers. Both cell phones and teenage passengers contribute to distractions for young drivers.
Teen passengers also play a unique role in creating peer pressure, which is likely to lead teen drivers to engage in risky behavior they might otherwise avoid. For instance, the agency found that in fatal crashes in which the teen driver was not wearing a seat belt, nearly 80 percent of that driver’s teen passengers rode unrestrained. Another study found that having one teenage passenger increased the likelihood that a teenage driver would engage in risky behavior by 2.5 times. Having multiple passengers increased the likelihood by three times.
If you have a teen driver in your household, speak with them regularly about the topics listed above and about defensive driving skills. Teach them that, as a driver, they must exercise maturity. They are responsible for their own safety and that of their passengers.
When your teen has a learner’s permit, take every opportunity possible to allow him or her to drive under your direct supervision. This is by far your best chance to instill safe driving habits that will stay with your child for life.