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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Experts Say Driver Education Should Be Part of Routine Teen Physicals

Should Doctors Promote Safe Driving?

Experts at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center believe that as a part of every teenager’s physical exam, physicians should be asking, "Are you driving yet?"

Since auto accidents claim the lives of more 15-to-20-year-olds than any disease, teenage driving should be considered a risky behavior, and given as much attention as unprotected sex or underage drinking.

"Pediatricians talk to their teen patients about eating disorders, alcohol, marijuana use," said pediatrician Letitia Dzirasa, "but the one conversation that is not happening often enough is about the No. 1 killer of teenagers: car accidents."

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, pediatricians are advised to:

  • Inquire of 15-year-olds if they are applying for a driver's permit in the near future.

  • Talk about the risks of driving and ask specific questions about the teen's driving behavior.

  • Ask probing questions about medicine and alcohol use, nighttime driving, seat belt use, and cell phone practices while driving.

  • Persuade parents to enact driving restrictions on their nascent drivers, such as making sure their teen is accompanied by an adult when behind the wheel.

  • Ask parents to think about establishing a written contract (also know as a Parent Teen Driving Contract) with their teen driver, establishing the rules and consequences for breaking them.

Dzirasa also calls on pediatricians to educate themselves about their state's driving laws and discuss them with both teens and parents. The graduated driver's licensing law in Maryland eases novice drivers into driving in three phases: learner's permit, provisional license, and driver's license. According to research, graduated licensing reduces both the number of accidents and severity of injuries. For example, one study revealed that graduated licensing reduced crashes that require hospitalizations among 16-year-olds by 35 percent. Other studies have shown that a year after the adoption of a graduated licensing law, the crash rate among 16-year-olds dropped by 26 percent to 41 percent.

High-risk teen driving behaviors include inexperience, no seat belt use, alcohol and other drug use, developmental conditions such as ADHD that increase crash risk, cell phones and audio equipment that distract drivers, nighttime driving, and the "it can't happen to me" syndrome that's typical of teenagers and youth.

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