When my friends and I were teenaged drivers, we went a little nuts in the summer. School was out, which meant, in our premature brains, that normal rules no longer applied. And with the availability of a car and a lot of unstructured time, we had FREEDOM. We would wake up and decide it was a great day for the beach, so we would drive two hours to our favorite spot. Sometimes it was just one car full of teens, but sometimes we had a small caravan of three or four cars. I remember the pure joy of flying down the highway, windows open, singing to the radio.
But when it came to common sense and safety, all my friends and I were idiots. This was a group of honor roll kids, and yet we drove without seat belts because they made it more difficult to turn around and talk with the people in the back seat, or to lean out the windows like puppies. We blasted the radio at levels that would have made it impossible to hear a car horn. And worse, we were speed demons. One car alone went fast, but when there were two or more cars, we dared each other to go faster…we took turns flying down the highway at speeds that would give me a heart attack today. One particularly memorable day, we were two cars of 11 kids driving at speeds in excess of 100 mph (we were driving in a Trans Am and a GTO). We laughed when other drivers on the road pulled over in fear.
Like I said, we were idiots. Smart kids…good kids…but driving idiots, drunk on our own freedom and independence. The ending to this story was a happy one: We got to the beach, we got sunburned, and no one got hurt. But today, it still makes me a little sick to think about how that trip could have turned suddenly, predictably, tragic.
I’m sharing this story because we are now in what experts call the “100 Deadliest Days,” from Memorial Day through Labor Day, when most fatal crashes occur. In summer of 2012, about 1000 people died in crashes involving teen drivers, and more than 550 of those killed were teens.
What teens (and parents) don’t realize is that simply having a passenger in the car with a teen driver increases the risk of a wreck. According to the National Safety Council, passengers increase the risk of a teen driver having a fatal crash by more than 44%. Loud conversations and music, and horseplay also increase the risk.
“Putting our teens behind the wheel is the most dangerous thing we do as parents, and summer is an especially deadly time,” said Deborah Hersman, president and CEO at NSC. “While state laws allow teens to drive, parents have the opportunity and the obligation to establish ground rules and expected behaviors for safe driving. Parental engagement improves the odds for young drivers returning home over the next 100 days.”
The National Safety Council urges parents to review their state’s Graduated Driver Licensing program, which outlines laws that are based on the significant risks of crashes for teens. However, state laws are minimum guidelines and do not represent the best practices for keeping teens safe. Parents should consider doing much more than laws require in order to reduce their teens’ exposure to the greatest crash risks. For example, parents are encouraged to establish household driving guidelines – and the consequences for breaking them – in a parent-teen driving agreement. Parents can find all the resources and materials they need at DriveitHOME.org – an online resource developed by the National Safety Council to help parents keep their teen drivers safe.
Enjoy your summer, enjoy your freedom, but please be safe. Create happy memories, not cautionary tales.