Don't let your teen driver become a crash test dummy

By Posted : 10/18/2011

teen driver safetyThe first 30 days solo behind the wheel are the most dangerous for teen drivers, who are 50 percent more likely to crash during that time than they are after a year of experience on the road, according to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

They're also twice as likely to get into a wreck in that first month as they are after two years of driving on their own, the study says. The most common mistakes causing an accident during the first month in which teens were at least partially responsible include speeding, not paying attention and failure to yield.

Teen drivers are inexperienced, which often equates to high car insurance rates for parents. But fortunately, teens learn fast.

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The AAA study analyzed specific types of collisions in relation to how long the driver had been licensed and found that some types of crashes significantly decreased as experience increased. For instance, wrecks involving left-hand turns were common during the first few months, but declined almost immediately thereafter, according to the study.

"We know that young drivers' crash rates decrease quickly as they gain experience. What our new study tells us is that there are a few specific abilities that we could do a better job of helping teens develop before they begin driving independently," Peter Kissinger, AAA Foundation president and CEO, said in a statement.

Car accidents are the leading cause of death among teens, accounting for more than one in three deaths for this demographic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Teen Driver Safety Week kicks off this week, with the theme this year focusing on ways to help parents teach their teens to drive.

"This research serves as a great reminder for parents to stay involved in the learning process even after the law allows teens to drive without a parent in the car," Kissinger said in a statement. "Continued parent engagement can help teens gain needed driving experience and shape their habits for a lifetime of safe driving."

There are a few tips parents can use to help inexperience teen drivers stay safe, says Bill Wade, national program manager of Street Survival, a group that teaches teen driving safety. Tips you can use include:

  • Limiting the number of passengers your teen is allowed to have in the car
  • Continuing to chaperone practice driving sessions
  • Instructing your teen to wear a safety belt
  • Prohibiting your teen from driving at night

Many states already set limits on new teen drivers by enacting graduated driver's license rules that include curfews and passenger limits, Wade says. However, parents still need to be vigilant. 

"For a 16-year-old driver, the incident rate goes up 35 [percent] when there's another 16-year-old in the car, and when there are two passengers that age, it goes up 70 percent, so things like limiting passengers, these things are important," says Wade. "These kids are not drinking, they're not necessarily doing anything wrong, they're just 16-year-olds driving."

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