During the summer many new drivers hit the road, heading to summer jobs and enjoying the freedom that comes with a driver’s license.
While a newly earned license is exciting for teens, it’s also potentially dangerous. Young drivers lack experience and sometimes make unwise decisions behind the wheel. These decisions, like texting while driving or recklessly driving with friends, can cause injuries or even fatal accidents.
Understanding why teens might make a bad decision while driving and knowing how to talk about responsibility behind the wheel is the best way to keep them safe.
Teen Car Accidents Causes
16-year-olds are more likely than any other age group to get into a car crash, according to dosomething.org. Lack of experience plays a big role in the cause of accidents.
In Oklahoma, teenagers are able to get a driver’s license once they turn 16. The only prerequisite is the completion of a driver’s education course. These courses are taught as a class in high school or through independent, at-home online courses.
Though these courses teach many important basics and driving laws, there is no way they can fully prepare young drivers for the reality of the road. Driving practice with a learning permit helps, but it’s still not enough to make an expert driver. This can only be learned with time and adherence to traffic laws.
Inexperienced driving can be dangerous during stormy weather or heavy traffic. Even with a valid license, some conditions can be intimidating for new drivers.
Phone use is another major cause of teen accidents. In a survey by dosomething.org, 56 percent of teens admitted to using their phone while driving. This distraction can impair drivers and causes deadly accidents.
Why teens can make unsafe driving choices
Teens make more reckless choices than adults in general. Why? It’s the way their brains are developing when in it comes to making choices. Teens consider consequences of actions differently than adults and young children. They can feel pressure to impress their friends by showing off.
“Adolescents and young adults take more risks than any other age group,” says Sara Barry, a licensed behavioral practitioner who works at INTEGRIS. She says scientific research has uncovered there is a physiological reason for this.
“Teens make riskier decisions because their brains have not yet finished developing. Specifically, the prefrontal cortex — the area of the brain involved in ‘executive functioning’ that influences social control and helps determine between good, bad and best future consequences and predict outcomes of current activities — does not finish maturing until about age 25. As such, developmentally teenagers are more prone to following their impulses rather than thinking things through,” she says.
Unfortunately, this risk-taking behavior sometimes manifests itself in underage drinking and driving. In a 2011 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine to 11 percent of teens in Oklahoma admitted to drinking and driving.
Although nationally the rate of underage drinking and driving has declined in the last two decades, it’s still very important to have conversations with your teen about driving under the influence.
How to talk to your teen about safe driving choices
It’s important to make new drivers understand driving is a freedom, but also a huge responsibility. Remember you’re helping your teen learn safe driving practices!
According to Charvee Nash, a licensed professional counselor and a licensed alcohol and drug counselor at INTEGRIS Mental Health, “It is imperative that you establish clear, concise driving rules for your teenager — no drinking and driving, always wear a seat belt, no texting and driving,” she says. She recommends setting real consequences, like taking away car privileges, if you find your child driving recklessly. “It is important to discuss the consequences of not following the rules,” she says.
If you have an example of a time someone close to the teen indulged in risky driving behaviors and this resulted in a negative outcome, you should discuss this situation with your child.
Finally, “Remind teens that just because they are of legal driving age, this does not mean that they have right to drive. Driving is a privilege that should be taken seriously,” says Nash.
- Be open, firm and respectful when talking about driving safety with your teen.
- Supervise teens’ interactions with peers and provide rules for peer interactions to limit opportunities for risky behavior.
- Parents should know and enforce graduated driving laws, which limit the number of teenagers that are allowed in a car when teens are driving.
- Lead by example and drive as safely as possible. It’s as simple as wearing a seatbelt and not using your phone in the car. Your teen learns from watching you!
- Remind them it’s okay to pull over if they ever feel too tired or ill to drive.
- Offer to pick them up if they ever feel unsafe or incapable of driving themselves or as a passenger with friends.
- Work with teens to help them feel confident to call out bad driving practices when they’re with friends. Teens can play a powerful role with friends by being a safe passenger.
Simply taking the time to consult teens about what good driving looks like can build on their growing ability to self-regulate. Your encouragement will help them develop strategies for navigating situations where risky activity might happen.
INTEGRIS Mental Health clinician Charvee Nash is on the Mobile Assessment Team, where she conducts assessments and helps patients get appropriate mental health care as well as assist callers when they are needing mental health/chemical dependency resources and/or need a mental health assessment. She can be reached at 405-717-9841.