Don’t drink and drive. Don’t text while driving. Don’t get in a car with someone who’s under the influence. Teens have heard these rules over and over. But are they listening? Especially during the free, unstructured months of June, July and August – dubbed the 100 Deadliest Days of Summer – how can you enforce the rules when your child is spending less time under your watchful gaze? Here are a few tips for monitoring and enforcing safe driving rules this summer:
#1 Discuss the Facts.
Some conversations with teens are tough to have. But with drunk and distracted driving, the facts are so compelling they can do a lot of the talking for you. Share these statistics with your teen:
- Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 16 to 19-year-olds. The crash rate for teens in this age range is almost three times the rate for drivers 20 and over. Why? Inexperience and lack of skill, but research has also found that slower development of working memory in the teen brain plays a critical role.
- Summer months, nights (6pm to midnight) and weekends are especially dangerous. In 2018, 52% of teen crash deaths happened on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
- Although teens are less likely to drink and drive than adults, their crash risk is much higher when they do. Teens are 17 times more likely to die in a car accident when they have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above the legal limit (.08%) than when they haven’t been drinking. Kids who drink are more likely to have school problems and engage in early sexual activity. They’re also more likely to be the victim of a violent crime such as rape, assault, or robbery. They’re also four times more likely to develop a drinking problem than those who wait to drink until they’re older.
#2 Use Technology to Your Advantage.
If you’re worried about your teen or they’ve made mistakes in the past and need more oversight, technology is on your side. There is a whole market of mobile apps available to help you monitor your teen’s behavior behind the wheel. These safety and awareness apps, some of which are free, help ensure your child isn’t texting and driving, speeding or going to a location you didn’t agree on. Some available features include:
- Tracking and alerts about route, location, speed limit, weather conditions, and phone usage while driving
- Arrival and departure notifications
- Driving analysis, including rapid acceleration, hard braking, and excessive speed
- Silencing incoming texts, alerts and phone calls to your child’s phone
- 24/7 roadside assistance
- Emergency response, such as automatic notifications to emergency services in the event of an accident
There are also devices like dashboard cameras that allow you to watch your child behind the wheel. Some parents install devices in the car that disable certain smartphone functions like social media apps and games while the car is moving. These tech tools open up opportunities to start conversations about safety and make suggestions to improve their driving skills.
#3 Offer Incentives.
Research has shown teens are more willing to take safety seriously – for example, not texting, reading emails, or talking on the phone while driving – when there are financial incentives. See if your car insurance company provides discounts for using monitoring tools. You can also consider small cash rewards for good driving behavior.
#4 Know Your State’s Laws.
In many states, it’s illegal to text or talk on the phone while driving. States with texting bans have significantly lower crash death rates involving teen drivers, according to a July 2020 study. The researchers analyzed federal data on over 38,000 crashes between 2007 and 2017. During this time period, the number of states with distracted driving laws increased from 15 to 47 and the rate of fatal teen driver crashes decreased by nearly one-third. Currently, texting is banned for all drivers in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Talk to your child about these laws, as well as graduated driver licensing laws, and the consequences of violating them.
#5 Make a Driving Contract.
Driving is a privilege that must be earned. Spell out in writing the rules your teen must follow to earn the privilege, along with the consequences of breaking those rules. For example, you may want to limit driving at night and on weekends or restrict the number of passengers riding in the car at one time.
Your contract should have clear rules against texting or using the phone while driving, riding with someone who is drinking, and driving under the influence. Your child may not realize there is no safe amount they can drink before driving. Research shows that even just one drink can increase the risk of a fatal accident. About 15% of alcohol-related motor vehicle deaths involve drivers with BACs below the legal limit.
If your child breaks a rule, follow through with the consequences you’ve laid out. Consequences could include strict limits on driving time or taking away the keys for a period of time. Your teen is more likely to take the rules seriously if you model the behaviors you’re requiring of your teen in your own driving.
#6 Give Them a Safe ‘Out.’
Make sure your teen knows you’re a safe place to turn if they get into a dangerous situation. If they need a ride home because someone is pressuring them to drink, they’ve made a poor decision or their driver has been drinking or using, tell them to call you. Then pick them up – no questions asked, no punishments. You can also set them up for success by talking about peer pressure. Brainstorm ways to respond when they’re offered a drink at a party or asked to get in the car with someone who is under the influence.
It’s hard to make the very real risks of teen driving clear to young people whose brains are wired for risk. Even if they don’t seem like they’re listening, you still have a lot of influence. When your kids know you’re firmly against drinking and driving and other risky behaviors, they’re less likely to do them. By laying out your expectations and enforcing the rules, you can help your teen develop skills that will keep them safe.
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