Car wrecks are the leading cause of death among North Carolina teens, and crashes are surprisingly common. In NC, teenage drivers are involved in car wrecks approximately every 24 minutes.
According to research, the most common mistakes that cause teen wrecks are speeding, inattention and distraction, and failure to yield. And while drunk driving is still rare among teens, it accounts for some of the most tragic and memorable motor vehicle fatalities.
One recent example—Wake County’s first in 2012—is the death of 17-year-old Millbrook High School student Elizabeth Molloy. According to an article on WRAL.com, the driver was 16-year-old fellow student Garrett Prince, who lost control of his 1999 Jeep SUV while driving 75 mph in a 30 mph zone, and ended up hitting a tree. Prince could face charges of felony death by motor vehicle, provisional DWI, careless and reckless driving, having an open container of spirituous liquor, speeding, and possession of marijuana. Jared Sink, man in the neighborhood where the wreck took place witnessed the crash and pulled Molloy from the burning wreck, said what probably everyone is thinking: “[It’s] just absolutely tragic. To all the young people out there, there’s no taxi that’s more expensive than someone’s life.”
Parent/Teen Driving Agreement
Teens know that underage drinking is illegal, but that doesn’t stop some of them from drinking. They also know—in theory—that they shouldn’t get into a car with someone who has been drinking, but many of them disregard that advice. Why? Sometimes because the teen doesn’t have the confidence to stand up to peer pressure…or because they are afraid to call their parents for an alternate ride home…or because they don’t realize that a taxi is a viable option.
Those are some of the reasons why a Parent/Teen Driving Agreement can be an important tool. The University of North Carolina (UNC) Highway Safety Research Center and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol have created sample Parent/Teen Driving Agreements. It’s a formal agreement between parents and teens. It includes specific things that both parents and teens agree to do. Parents have found that driving agreements work well to keep teens safe when they first begin to drive on their own by making expectations clear.
The agreements are valuable once your child is old enough to be out with friends, even if he or she is not actually driving. An agreement should outline parental expectations for safety, such as never riding in a car with an impaired driver, always wearing a seatbelt, obeying the speed limit, and avoiding distractions, including texting, talking on a cell phone, eating, or applying make up. That’s the teen side of the agreement. The parent side of the agreement should given the child options for how to get out of a potentially hazardous situation, and outline how parents will support their child’s efforts to stay safe.
For example, agreeing that if a child ever feels unsafe, he or she can call home at any hour and request a ride home…without risk of punishment. (As much as parents might want to lash out at a child who has been drinking or at an unauthorized party, the goal is to get the child home safely. A strongly negative reaction from a parent might cause the child to avoid calling in the future, and possibly getting into a dangerous or fatal situation. That’s not to say that discipline can’t be taken for any rule-breaking, but the ride home should be calm and concerned—any discussions or repercussions should wait for the next day.)
We’ve done some of the research for you and attached links to three separate Parent/Teen Driving Agreements. Look at all of them, take what you like from each, and create your own custom agreement. We like the first one, from the UNC Highway Safety Research Center because it allows teens and parents to write their own agreement items in their own words—that means teens aren’t just skimming over the task without thinking. And any additional minute of thinking about driving safety is another opportunity to keep our children safe.
Sample Agreement 1: University of North Carolina (UNC) Highway Safety Research Center
Sample Agreement 2: North Carolina State Highway Patrol
Sample Agreement 3: North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles
Project Ignition, funded in part by the National Youth Leadership Council, helps students, teachers, and communities address teen driver safety. Students themselves design and lead awareness campaigns–every year, 25 grants are awarded to high schools across the country. The teams often find their inspiration from personal tragedy, but their powerful messages reach across county and state lines. Some examples of the kind of service-learning encouraged by Project Ignition are holding a mock crash on campus, and learning and applying the physics of crashes from a science class, including the potential effects of velocity and crashes on the human body.
This year, we’d like to congratulate the two North Carolina high schools that won grants:
- Pine Lake Preparatory in Mooresville, North Carolina. Title: “Increasing Your Survival Odds.” The Pine Lake Prep Project Ignition team will lead an in-depth 15-30 week integrating the NC Driver’s Ed curriculum to promote safe driving and better driver “road awareness” utilizing a five-prong approach: (1) mock accident scene, (2) speaker series, (3) student-based research projects, (4) obstacle course on site, and (5) service learning.
- Lincoln Charter High School in Denver, North Carolina. Title: “As the Wheel Turns.” The Project Ignition team of Lincoln Charter believe that teen driving accidents are a rampant and tragic problem in their area. Their emphasis is to reduce the number of student drivers who exercise unsafe driving habits such as eating, allowing excess passengers, or driving while emotionally inept.
At HensonFuerst, we’ve seen the devastating effects of car wrecks and DWI injuries far too often. It’s never pretty, but there is something particularly tragic when the injured individual is a young person who has barely had a chance to live. Our hearts go out the the family of Elizabeth Molloy, and all families touched by the catastrophe of a DWI wreck. We wish you peace.