Safe Driving Tips For Teens
American Automobile Association dashcam videos of distracted young drivers
Auto accidents continue to be the leading cause of death for teenagers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that teens are statistically more often than adults to be in a fatal accident because of a driver error. This includes being able to accurately judge, recognize, and react to threats on the roadway. Other contributors include distracted driving, speeding, and not wearing seat belts. Teens have a particularly high rate of being in accidents in the first few months of driving after obtaining their license. Knowing limitations, controlling risky behavior, and gradually improving driving skills are steps to becoming a safer driver. Here are a few considerations and tips to help teens become better drivers.
Accept your inexperience
It’s difficult to admit that one doesn’t know everything, but remember that there is no substitute for experience. A primary reason for high teen driver accidents is the lack of the experience they have behind the wheel. While driving skills can be obtained in a relatively short period, exposure to different driving situations takes years. Teens have been shown to misjudge dangerous situations while driving simply due to their limited driving experience. While some driver errors prove harmless, just one can lead to a serious accident.
Wear your seat belt and make sure passengers do too
The CDC reports that among teens (13-19) who died in passenger vehicle crashes in 2012, 55% were not wearing a seat belt. Seat belts remain a primary safety device in cars regardless of the advances of technology. Just because a car has elaborate airbags and other safety devices, doesn’t diminish the need for safety belts. Safety belts serve three primary functions; 1. restraining your body from colliding with the interior of the car as the vehicle absorbs the energy of the crash, 2. preventing you from being ejected from the vehicle (high probability of fatality), and 3. holding your body in the safest position for airbags to be most effective. Safety belt use has been shown to reduce serious accident related injuries by as much as half.
Watch your speed and distance from other cars
According to the IIHS, excessive speed is a factor in about a third of teen crash fatalities. Speed coupled with teen driver inexperience is a bad formula. Teens should always be aware of their speed and realize that increased speed exponentially creates more risk for accidents. Planning ahead and giving yourself enough travel time, can help to avoid feeling the need to speed to arrive on time.
Teens have also shown that they misjudge distances between other vehicles driving on the road and fail to keep safe spaces between them. A good rule to help prevent rear end accidents is to keep at least a 3 second time cushion between your car and the car directly in front (if the roads are wet add another 2 seconds). Experts advise drivers to focus on the road in front of you, but to also look down the road to help anticipate approaching hazards such as cars entering the road, traffic control devices, pedestrians, etc.
Eventually you must stop
Cars need time and distance to stop. There are several variables that account for how quickly an automobile can stop in an emergency braking situation. Things such as the conditions of the car’s tires and brakes, surface of the roadway, and reaction time all impact the deceleration of a car. In general, a vehicle traveling at 60 mph will take an average of 7 seconds (including the 1-2 seconds it takes to react and start braking) and about 250 feet to stop (just short of a football field).
Focus on your driving and don’t get distracted
Many accidents occur because drivers are careless or distracted. Texting, talking, or being inattentive is a major cause of accidents for drivers of all ages. Driving requires not just skills, but constant vigilance about ever changing surroundings. Loss of driver focus for just over 4 seconds at 50 mph means that the car travels roughly the length of a football field during this preoccupied time. Besides smartphones, eating, adjusting the car’s stereo system, reaching for an item away from the driver’s seat, or looking into the mirror are also common distraction points.
Watch who you drive with
The IIHS reports that adding one teenage passenger with a teen driver can double the risk of an accident and adding others creates an even greater risk. Having adult passengers or driving solo has been shown to be safer for teens by helping to maintain focus and minimize the temptation to show off or test the limits of the car. Eventually, a teen will drive with other young persons in the car, but its best to build driving skills and get experience first.
Drive at the right time
Driving at certain times can have a lot to do with safety. Many think that avoiding heavy traffic times translates into safety, but that’s not necessarily so for teens. The fatal crash rate of 16-19 year-olds is about 4 times as high at night as it is during the day (IIHS). This is due in part to limited visibility as well as higher single car accidents because fewer cars mean greater temptation for speeding. Evening hours additionally means more drivers on the road under the influence of alcohol/drugs. Higher fatal accidents among teens are also associated with certain months (June, July, August) and days of the week (Friday, Saturday, Sunday).
Just as self-defense teaches a person to protect themselves by always being aware of the environment, so does defensive driving. Driving defensively refers to a manner of driving that avoids accidents by anticipating hazards and being aware of ones surroundings. Even though driving will eventually become routine, it’s best to stay alert when driving and look for potential threats.
Make yourself visible
Many cars have daylight running lights already, but consider turning headlights on to be more visible to other drivers. Automakers use daylight running lights because they have been found to make driving safer and insurance companies routinely give discounts for this feature. Also, don’t forget to use your headlights (not just fog/running lights) after sunset/before sunrise and in low visibility weather situations. Similarly, brighter colored cars have been shown to be less likely to be involved in certain types of accidents as well.
Seeing the road
Being able see the roadway and the cars surrounding the vehicle has something to do with the car driven and how the driver sets up their visibility. Car seats, mirrors, and window obstructions should all be adjusted prior to driving. The driver needs to make sure not only the windshield and rear window is unobstructed, but that there is also a clear view on the sides and rear quarter sides of the car that often hide blind spots.
Don’t drive drowsy
The effects of driving drowsy has surprisingly been compared to that of driving under the influence of alcohol. Reaction time is greatly reduced when a person is overly tired or drowsy. The NHTSA conservatively estimates that close to 3% of all fatal auto accidents are caused by drowsy driving, but recent studies indicate that it is much higher. Teenagers often function on limited sleep which coupled with driving inexperience make them more at risk. A tired mind can zone out making simple concentration on driving skills impossible. Loss of concentration for only a few seconds is all it takes for a serious accident.
Never put yourself in a situation to drive under the influence of anything
Alcohol and drugs are known contributors in fatal auto accidents. Even though teens drink and drive less than adults, their crash risk is substantially higher when they do. The combination of drinking and driving is made worse by teenagers' relative inexperience both with drinking and with driving (IIHS). Teens should always avoid placing themselves into potential situations where they may be exposed to alcohol/drugs and driving by planning ahead. Remember that alcohol/drugs effect perceptions to make decisions, so don’t expect to make good ones when you are under the influence.