Few things can make parents’ hearts sink to their stomachs more than seeing their teenagers behind the wheel of the car, leaving for a night out with friends. No matter how much you trust your teen, the fact is that car accidents are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, and 75% of all teen crashes are due to driver error.
A new survey of teen drivers, released by online driver’s ed provider Driving-Tests.org, suggests some paradoxes in the minds of driving-age teens. Far from the image of the fearless, foolhardy young adults, the study shows that teens are aware of some of the risks of driving, are not entirely confident in their driving abilities, and are less anxious than ever before to get behind the wheel.
Here is a look at the most pertinent of the survey findings:
Risk awareness: 79% of teens identified texting, talking on a cellphone as the most dangerous things a person can do while driving. Alarmingly, only 9% of respondents identified drinking and driving as being a critical risk—despite evidence that at least 22% of all teenage driving fatalities involved alcohol.
No race to the DMV: A recent study by University of Michigan indicates that fewer teenagers are getting their driver’s licenses. Only 28 percent of 16-year-olds had their driver’s license in 2010, an 18% decline from 1983. When questioned as to why they might delay getting thier licenses, the Driving-Tests.org respondents cited their overall fear of driving, as well as lack of confidence with highway driving, parallel parking, turning, and driving in close proximity to trucks and other large vehicles.
Males less aware of dangers: Teenage boys die in car accidents nearly twice as often as teenage girls. According to the CDC, 39% were speeding at the time of the crash and 25% had been drinking. Yet when asked to identify the most difficult aspect of learning how to drive, 36% of male teenager indicated that “passing the driving test” was the most challenging. Female drivers, on the other hand, cited “developing driving skills” as the most difficult aspects of learning how to drive.
Parental influence matters: Think your kids aren’t paying attention? Think again. While parental influence is often credited with making a positive difference by getting involved with their teen’s driving, the example being set by some parents might raise eyebrows. At least 56% of teens have observed parents texting or talking on their phones; 18% have seen their parents applying makeup, smoking, adjusting controls, or eating while driving. Twelve percent witnessed “dangerous driving habits” such as not wearing a seatbelt and driving with their knees and 8% of teens cited seeing their parents engage in aggressive driving.
WHAT PARENTS CAN DO
Since we can’t keep our teens at home forever and eventually they’re going to get behind the wheel, Driving-Tests.org offers the following pointers to help our kids practice safe, responsible driving:
Lead by example: Wear seatbelts, put the cell phones away, focus on the road and drive defensively, not aggressively. putting their cell phones away and focusing on the road.
Talk to your teens: Emphasize the risks of distracted driving along with the dangers of drinking and driving. Consider a parent-teen driving contract to increase awareness and emphasize responsibility.
Sign them up for a class: Consider registering your teens in a defensive driving class and when you accompany them as they drive, devote more time to highway driving, driving in traffic, at higher speeds and around trucks.