Car crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. With many teens learning to drive as early as 15, drivers’ education and highway safety experts offer a few teen driving safety ideas for new drivers. Not to mention their parents.
First, it’s important to understand teen driving behavior. Teens are more likely than other drivers to take risks on the road that jeopardize their safety and that of their passengers and fellow motorists, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“Inexperience and immaturity combined with speed, drinking and driving, not wearing seat belts, distracted driving – cell phone use, loud music, other teen passengers – drowsy driving, night time driving and other drug use aggravates this problem,” the NHTSA reports.
Three-stage graduated drivers licensing programs across the country, which step-up drivers from a probationary learning permit stage to full license, have been shown to decrease teen crash risk by 20 to 50 percent, according to the NHTSA.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says the optimal age to start learning is at least 16 and recommends at least 30 to 50 hours of supervised driving. Drivers’ education courses typically include about 30 hours of classroom instruction and at least six hours behind the wheel, NHTSA reports.
But to reinforce the rules of the road, here are 10 teen driving safety ideas for new drivers and their parents:
Choose a parent to “coach” the teen. Typically there’s one parent who has a better rapport with the teen, says Sharon Fife, president of the Driving School Association of the Americas. This parent should maintain a calm, positive atmosphere and set a good example of driving behavior, Fife says.
Keep practice time short. Schedule 20 to 30 minute intervals to practice a certain skill, she says.
Practice first in parking lots. “Think 100 hours of practice, not 50,” Fife says. “Practice standing, stopping, figure eights.” Then progress to quiet residential areas with low curbs before attempting more complex situations and traffic.
Become familiar with the vehicle before driving. Teens tend to focus on the mechanical while learning to drive, Fife says. If they practice in different vehicles and don’t take time to learn the dashboard layout beforehand, they might take their eyes off the road searching for the wipers or lights or turn signals while driving.
Look where you want to go. “You drive where you look.” That means not taking your eyes off the road, to, say, check if you are staying within your lane. To avoid emergency braking or steering, the NHTSA recommends looking at least a quarter-mile ahead in rural areas, two blocks or traffic lights in urban areas, and three in suburban.
Be decisive. “New drivers have a hard time deciding when to stop at an intersection,” Fife says. “Once you’ve made a commitment, you have to make a decision.” For instance, if the traffic light turns yellow, “your concern is crossing the road.”
Eliminate distractions. Those include cell phones, music, food and passengers.
Slow down to avoid skids. Reduce your speed before you enter the curve and maintain your speed through it, she says. “Typically in a spin, you’ve pushed the brake and gas and turned too much. Stop doing that. Look and steer where you want to go.” Practice skidding in large parking lots before attempting to drive in snow, Fife warns.
Rotate your outside mirrors to avoid blindzones, the NHTSA suggests in its novice driver fact sheet. Instead of looking along the sides of your car, this view allows you to see whether cars are approaching in otherwise obstructed areas.
Never assume you know something. If you make a mistake, it’s a good opportunity to pull the vehicle over, reevaluate and repeat the exercise until you understand, Fife says.
For more teen driving safety ideas, visit www.nhtsa.gov/teen-drivers. AAA’s Keys2Drive teen driving tool, www.teendriving.aaa.com, includes sample driving test questions, a parent-teen driving agreement, driving simulation challenges and tips for choosing a driving school. AAA also offers a free teen membership with a learner’s permit.
To check your state’s licensing restrictions and requirements for young drivers, consult www.iihs.org/laws/graduatedlicensecompare.aspx.
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