This week is National Teen Driver Safety Week (October 16th-22nd), an attempt to improve our awareness of the dangers young drivers face as well as giving parents ideas on how to reduce their young drivers’ chances of being injured in a car. It is very tragic that on average 8 children a day die in preventable automobile accidents. These are young, healthy, energetic, bright adolescents who die before their adult lives even begin.
During my pediatric career, I have witnessed improvement in both car safety and in the teaching of driving skills to teens. I am a big fan of the graduated driver’s license. My children benefited from the slow introduction of driving skills. I also think that automotive engineers have done a wonderful job over the past 30 years of improving the safety of cars. I have seen teens walk away from crashes that would have surely killed a generation ago, protected by airbags, safety cages, restraint systems, and anti-roll technology. My first car didn’t have a seat belt!
The highlight of National Teen Driver Safety Week campaign is to get parents more involved in teaching safe driving to their children. Here are some suggestions for improving your teen’s driving skills:
-Drive with your teen as much as possible, the more the better. Practice makes perfect.
-Be very clear about your expectations for your teen’s driving. Lay out the rules and write them down. Make a formal agreement and get everyone to sign it. Make sure your agreement addresses your teen’s car privileges as well as financial contributions to driving, cell phone use while driving, calling home when away from home, driving after dark, radio use while driving, driving non family members, and the consequences of driving infractions or breaking house rules.
– Share your rules with other parents. Having similar rules for your child’s friends will make them easier for everyone to enforce.
-Lead by example. Set a good example for your children by being a safe driver yourself. Never drink and drive. Be defensive in your driving. Wear your seat belt and make sure your passengers do as well. Don’t drive when you are too tired.
I am now going to share with you something that I invented that I think helped when my children were learning to drive. I realized that the more I reminded (nagged) my children to follow the rules the more they ignored me. My reminders, instead of reinforcing the messages of safe driving, seemed only to emotionally agitate my children. I therefore decided to communicate with them using “hand signals” to remind them of my safe driving tips. Here are Dr Smolen’s hand signals for safe driving:
– “1 finger then 10”. Meaning- stay 1 car length back for every 10 miles per hour. Example- 3 car lengths back at 30 mph.
– “Repeated downward hand motion”. Meaning- Don’t drive too fast. Stay BELOW the speed limit.
– “The double head turn with fingers pointing both ways.” Meaning- Look twice before you pull out into oncoming traffic.
-“Shake head no with phone to ear”- Meaning- No talking, texting, surfing or anything else with the phone while driving.
– “2 fingers pointing from eyes”- Meaning- Keep your eyes on the road!
Feel free not only to use my hand signal method of communication with your young driver, but also to add your own variations. It was actually fun to talk to my children with just hand signals and have them know exactly what I was talking about. I am posting some web resources for you to check out if you want to read more on this subject. You can find a sample driving agreement to use as a starting point on the CDC website. Good luck and happy driving.