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Thursday, January 04, 2007

10 Tips for Reducing Teen Auto Accidents

AAA Study Reveals Teens Have Highest Collision Rate Amongst All Drivers, Offers Suggestions for Curbing Poor Driving Practices

Here's a startling statistic: the number one cause of fatalities amongst American teenagers is auto accidents. Teen drivers have the highest crash rate of all age groups, and teens that have a year or less experience behind the wheel have the most dismal crash statistics.

Unfortunately, young drivers jeopardize not only their own lives, but also everyone else in their path. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently revealed that almost two out of three fatalities in teen crashes are pedestrians, passengers, and occupants of other autos.

Here are 10 tips for reducing the risk of a crash by a new driver:

1. Measure your teen's maturity. Your child's facility for making good decisions is more important than his or her age. Academic performance and responsibility is a good place to start determining your teen's readiness to drive.

According to Dr. William Van Tassel, AAA's director of driver training operations, for some teens, socialization is an even better indicator than school performance in assessing a teen's readiness to operate a motor vehicle. "How do teens interact with parents, siblings and other family members?" he asks. "Do they respect other people? Do they think things through before they act? Are they impulsive?" Driving is essentially a social activity, and social skills bear a direct correlation to the psychomotor skills needed to drive a motor vehicle. In driving, as in life, one needs to know the rules, respect others' rights, and keep one's temper in check.

Some teenagers pass up the opportunity to drive as soon as they become legally entitled out of choice. "I think I had more fun by not driving," says Camille Garrenton, a 20-year-old Ohioan who waited until she began college before obtaining her license. "I never really partied hearty in high school. And I got to know a lot of the older kids better, because they gave me rides to soccer practice and other places."

For others, it was their parents who determined their readiness to drive. "My dad didn't think I was mature enough to drive," says Hannah Glatz, a native of Elgin, Ill., a suburban community where a car is the most-common means of transportation. "I, of course, thought I was. But I'm the youngest of four kids, and I think he just wanted to postpone the "final freedom" for me, the last one. My friends teased me about it at first, but after a while it was no big deal." Glatz, now in her third year of college, still doesn't have her license, but that's okay with her. "Sure, I want to drive someday," she admits. "It's just not high on my list of priorities right now."

2. Set an example by driving the way you want your child to drive. The uncomfortable truth is that bad drivers produce bad drivers. The recent AAA study revealed that teens involved in auto accidents are more likely to have parents with bad driving records than crash-free teens, as measured by the number of tickets and collisions.

The conclusion drawn here by researchers is the driving performance of a teenager is a mirror image of their parents' driving performance. The parallel holds regardless of parents' economic status or educational level.

Parents become a behind-the-wheel role model for their teens long before their children become eligible drivers. Now is the time to correct your attitude towards ignoring speed limits, illegal cell phone use, or engaging in aggressive driving behaviors towards other drivers.

3. Practicing their driving skills is a key factor in developing a teenager's ability to drive. According to Larry Lonero, principal of Northport Associates, a consulting firm specializing in safety training and research, "Parents must stay involved. Regardless of how good the [driving school] instructor is, parents must take an active role. The more involved you are, the lower the risk will be."

Your duties include scheduling regular driving practice sessions, knowing the specific skills and techniques covered in the driver's education program, reinforcing them during driving practice, correcting mistakes calmly, and providing generous praise when your teen performs well.

4. Do not permit your teen to have other teenage passengers, or drive at night. Statistics prove that the two biggest risk factors for teens are driving at night and having other teenage passengers in the vehicle. The more teenage passengers in an automobile, the higher the risk involved. Such data has prompted states to pass graduated driver licensing laws that prohibit night driving and limit the number of passengers a teenage driver may have. An AAA Foundation-sponsored study revealed that such laws effectively reduce new-driver crash rates, but your participation can reduce the risks even further. "Parents always have control," AAA's Van Tassel observed. "You can set limits tougher than state laws." Setting firm curfews and prohibiting all teen passengers during the early stages of beginning driving are ways to give your child the opportunity to log invaluable solo time behind the wheel under low-risk conditions.

5. Limit distractions. The list of potentially dangerous behind-the-wheel distractions includes talking on cell phones, eating, applying makeup, manipulating CD players and iPods. While it's impossible to monitor your child's driving behavior all the time, you can set a good example of safe driving behavior by not refraining from eating, using a cell phone, rummaging for CDs, or scrolling through iPod playlists while the vehicle you are operating is in motion.

6. Make sure the consequences of violating family rules are clear, and stick to them. Just as traffic-law infractions result in tickets and other penalties, breaking family driving rules must bring consequences, too. Consequences could run from extra chores around the house to reduced number of driving hours in a week, to losing driving privileges for a specified period of time.

Be sure to reward good driving behavior, too. Experts agree that positive feedback, especially rewards for good driving behavior, are essential for mastering the learning process by new drivers.

7. Once you and your teen agree upon the conditions and restrictions for driving privileges, as well as the consequences for violating them, make everything clear by putting it in writing.

More than making the conditions clear and terms iron-clad, putting everything in writing also makes clear the point that driving is serious business, and not something you or your teen can afford to take lightly.

8. Schedule Sunday summits. According to the AAA Foundation study, one of the most important and effective behaviors that separate crash-free teens from crash-prone ones is parental communication. More parent-teen communication leads to better driving.

AAA's Van Tassel recommends holding weekly or bi-monthly "Sunday summits" to review your teen's driving performance, the conditions, and restrictions you've set. "If there have been no violations after 90 days, then maybe you can agree to let your teen have the car an hour later on weekends or some other reward," Van Tassel suggests. "A summit is an easy-to-use trigger system to mete out rewards and implement consequences, as well as a time when you talk about nothing but driving."

9. Get state-of-the-art monitoring assistance. Because you can't ride everywhere with your teen to monitor his or her driving habits, several companies offer event data recorders that monitor of maximum speed, acceleration rates, instances of hard braking and other parameters that indicate aggressive driving. A few EDRs even sound alarms when the vehicle exceeds certain pre-set limits. For as little as little as $200 plus installation, you could have one installed in your vehicle.

Be sure that you don't install an EDR without your child's knowledge. Secrecy defeats the EDR's real function of discouraging life-threatening behavior. For example, you want your teen to think twice about speeding, and the EDR will catch the incident even if the police don't. Commit to downloading EDR readouts and reviewing them together in your Sunday summits. An even better idea is to use the EDR to examine your own driving behavior and share the results with your teen. Then your teen will view the EDR as a family safety check, not just a snooping tool.

10. Only allow your teen use the family's safest car. Often the oldest car becomes the family hand-me-down vehicle, even though it may not be the safest choice. In theory, the least experienced driver should operate the safest car.

In a collision, size matters, and what large vehicles lack in the "cool" factor, they make up in crashworthiness. Up-to-date safety technology, such as side airbags, anti-lock brakes and stability control, are important, too, if you have a vehicle equipped with such equipment. Small, high-powered sports cars, convertibles (which have higher injury rates) and SUVs (which tend to roll over) are not the best choice for a teenager to operate.

From birth through adulthood, Lowest Price Traffic School believes in making safety a priority. Over the past ten years, we've provided Florida learners permit courses, defensive driving classes, and other driver education resources to over two million customers nationwide.

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