Obtaining a driver’s license is an important rite of passage for millions of teenagers, and a clear sign they’re ready to start taking on adult responsibilities. Even so, teens are inexperienced drivers and are more likely to be involved in an accident than other age groups. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens ages 16–19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The following information and tips for teen drivers, and their parents, can help new drivers avoid mistakes and be safe on the roads.
Teens and Risk Perception
One concern that researchers have about adolescents, including teen drivers, is their inability to adequately perceive risks. For instance, a teen may excel in school, participate in community service and thrive in sports, but this same teen may talk or text on their phone while driving, barely paying attention to the possible hazards around.
A Harvard report notes that the human brain is only 80 percent developed in adolescents. The frontal lobe, responsible for cognitive processes, is the last to develop, which has a bearing on reasoning, planning and judgment. You guessed it: these are all attributes a good driver must have. Thus, teens should understand that risk taking, especially on the road, can be dangerous and recognize when they are in a precarious situation. Parents can increase awareness by supporting statewide graduated driver’s license initiatives.
Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Laws
Most states have guidelines teens need to follow to obtain full driving privileges. Starting in the 1990s, states began passing graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws. Nearly all state-run programs are composed of three stages: learner, intermediate and full privilege, with each stage reached when a corresponding goal is achieved.
For instance, teen learners may receive a driving permit once they’ve passed a test and their driving is supervised. At the intermediate level, a teen may drive without supervision, but usually are restricted by the number of young passengers in a car and can’t drive at night. Once the first two stages have been accomplished and the teen reaches a certain age, then a full privilege license is provided. Parents should work with their teens to ensure that all appropriate laws and expected behaviors are followed, and help their teen understand and respect the necessity of this process.
Tips for Teen Drivers
In addition to state initiatives, here are non-negotiable tips for teen drivers to abide by in order to take the wheel:
- Just click it. Always wear your seat belt and insist on the same for your passengers.
- Stay off the cell phone. No talking or texting while driving, ever.
- Obey the speed limit. Speeding increases the odds of an accident. Stay within the posted speed and if roads are slick, slow down.
- Practice defensive driving. Not only should you manage your own driving, but being aware of what other driver’s are doing is just as critical. Drive with your headlights on, allowing enough space between your car and the one in front of you. Look both ways and proceed with caution when entering an intersection.
- Know how your car operates. Become familiar with your car. Adjust the seat and mirrors to your liking. Understand what safety features are present and how they work, and always keep an emergency kit in your car.
The last, and most important rule is for parents: driving is a privilege for teens, not a right. If your teen flouts the rules, take away the keys.
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Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.