When the holiday season arrives parents of teenagers or visiting college freshmen are hardly surprised when every second of free time is spent with friends or at holiday parties. Your teen might ask for an extended curfew and the use of the car, but during the holiday break do you really know where your teen driver is and what they are doing? The holiday season is statistically a more dangerous time on U.S. roadways, increasing the potential risk of a teenage driving accident. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers between the ages of 16 -19 due to numerous factors such as inexperience behind the wheel and exhibiting risky driving behaviors. Is your teenage driver equipped with the knowledge and experience to safely navigate the roads during the busy holiday season?
Holiday Driving Deaths
In the most recent holiday driving death statistics released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Thanksgiving holiday of 2010 proved to be the deadliest holiday of the year with 431 car accident related deaths. Because many people travel by car, to their destination, on Thanksgiving the roads are often congested with drivers who may be distracted, drowsy, aggressive or even drunk. The days after Thanksgiving and before other major holidays, such as Christmas, the roads can continue to be busier and more congested than usual with drivers heading out to a holiday party, shopping for last minute gifts, or catching up with old friends and visiting relatives. Additionally, depending on the state you live in, the holiday season can be a snowy time of the year, making travel a little more difficult, especially if roads are covered in black ice.
Remind Your Teen About Safe Driving
Many teenagers have their own car and feel as if they have the prerogative to come and go when they please, especially during a holiday break from school, work, or extracurricular activities. If you have a young college student, visiting for the holidays, they may suddenly feel like you, as a parent, are overbearing or have too many rules. They might expect you to hand over your keys to your car with no questions asked. But before you “release” your teen out of the house and let her take the car out to visit friends or attend parties, it’s always wise to establish some ground rules or refresh her memory on safe driving behavior. Sure, she might roll her eyes and protest that you are treating her like a child, but remember, you are most likely paying for insurance and the car, so she can spare a couple of minutes. If you have a college student visiting from out of town, she may not have the use of a car on campus, which means she may not have driven since the last time she was home (which may have been months); a refresher will definitely not hurt.
Need a reason to talk to your teen before they get behind the wheel? Studies show that an “involved” parent results in fewer teen accidents related to risky behavior. Here are some things to consider before handing over the keys:
Set Some Guidelines: Talk to your teen about where they are going, who they are going with, what time you expect them to be home, and how often you’d like them to check in with you. Many older teens can handle their “own” curfew, but it all depends on your expectations as a household. Many parents are fine having a lenient curfew, as long as they know where their teen is. You may want to consider making a curfew on “drive time” as statistics show that the deadliest time for teen drivers was between 3pm-midnight on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Push the Seat Belt Law: If you are an adamant seatbelt user, chances are your teen is too. For many, it’s unfathomable that drivers continue to fail to use a seatbelt, but many accident fatalities (which were otherwise preventable) occur because a driver or passenger was not wearing a seatbelt. Remind your teen to buckle up and follow the law.
Defensive Driving vs. Aggressive Driving: Many young drivers have a tendency to exhibit more aggressive driving behaviors and are not skilled enough as defensive drivers. Aggressive driving is anything from speeding, failing to use turn signals, tailgating or weaving in and out of lanes. Defensive driving is the opposite and is, in fact, the way one should drive when trying to avoid an aggressive driver. While it’s easy to drive poorly, defensive driving requires practice and a driver’s full attention.
Eliminate Distraction: Your teen probably has a borderline unhealthy attachment to her cellphone, texting constantly. Remind your teen to put her phone out of reach and to stop taking “selfies” with her camera app while she drives. Cell phone use should be avoided at all costs and if she really needs to use the phone, she should pull over to the side of the road, put on her hazards/flashers, and make her phone call. Additionally, remind her that loud music and a car load of friends can make anyone forget that they are driving. Sure, it’s fun to be young and carefree, but it can easily become careless if there are too many distractions.
Drinking/Drugged Driving: Every parent hopes that their teen or underage college student doesn’t drink or do drugs, but many teens, when anonymously surveyed, admitted to using both drugs and alcohol on weekends or at parties. If your teen is going to drink, even just a small drink over a lengthy period of time, remind her that she should not drink nor should she get into a car with a friend or an adult who has been drinking or doing drugs. While the dangers of driving while under the influence have been repeated time after time, young people are prone to peer pressure and curiosity.
Driving After Dark: Any parent of a teen can agree that teenagers have absurd sleep schedules. It’s impossible to get them out of bed in the morning, but once a school break or weekend rolls around, their teen can pull an all-nighter, multiple days in a row. Drowsy driving, however, is just as dangerous as driving drunk. If your teen plans to stay up all night, try to urge them to stay at a friend’s and get some shut eye before heading home.
Holiday break does not need to be a time for battling with your teen driver. As the parent and the person who mostly likely pays for car insurance, gasoline, and car repairs, it is not unreasonable for you to have expectations about the way your teen chooses to drive and someday, they will realize that you were just doing your job as a parent. The holidays are a time for quality family bonding, not for a trip to the hospital because your teen was involved in an accident caused by reckless behavior.