It was a cool, crisp morning in the fall of 1978. My brother was nestled in my mom’s tummy, and I was meandering in the back of our red Plymouth Roadrunner. I loved to perch in the middle of the back seat and poke my head up to survey the scenery. In a flash, we were t-boned out of nowhere by a drunk driver. Glass erupted all over my very pregnant mother, I catapulted to the front passenger side floorboard and the world went into a slow-motion whir of sirens, shouts and tears.
You’d think that experience would have informed my driving a decade later as I got my first whiff of the open road. It didn’t. Apparently, I’d learned more about driving from The Dukes of Hazard than I had from nearly becoming a floor mat stain. In elementary school, I learned to “buckle up for safety.” That’s about all I learned, though. I didn’t drive the speed limit. I didn’t drive defensively—actually, I was quite “offensive.”
So, as I contemplate my own daughter taking the wheel soon, I tremble. October 19-25 was National Teen Driver Safety Week. I’ll begin the petition to make it an everyday event if you’ll sign it with me. Perhaps like me, you’re terrified of your newly minted teen’s license allowing him to be out on the road. The key is preparation, practice and—as I say through clenched, chattering teeth—trust.
Today’s cars are not the cars that we grew up driving. Even the most modest of new cars have enough horsepower to make my first car look like a child’s toy. Thankfully however, today’s vehicles are also much safer, and awareness is at an all-time high.
So, preparing our children to drive isn’t just about enrolling them in driver’s ed and then anxiously pumping those non-existent passenger-side brake. Websites like Edmunds.com and IIHS.com (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) offer important advice on the safest cars for teens. The most recent article on Edmunds, “The Best Cars for Teen Drivers,” focuses on important factors like crash test outcomes, car size, engine power, safety features and technology. These websites and others like them are great resources to explore before buying what may be one of the most important purchases that we make for our teens.
Ultimately, it’s the mid-sized sedans and SUVs that come out ahead. True, they’re not the 0-60 in 2.9 seconds assault on gravity your teen pines for. But let’s face it: as long as the vehicle gets our teens away from the house for a few hours and doesn’t use all of their gas money for one trip, you know they’ll secretly love it. Okay, no article about teen driving would be complete without some sobering statistics to confirm the need for safe cars. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teens are three times more likely to be killed in an automobile accident than adults. All said, almost 300,000 teens per year are treated in emergency rooms for automobile accidents.
Why? What’s so different about teen drivers? According to the CDC, teens speed more, tailgate more, take more risks in dangerous scenarios and use their seat belts less frequently. For instance, only 54 percent of teens studied said they always used their seatbelts when riding with others. A full 25 percent of teen male drivers who were killed in automobile crashes in 2010 had been drinking, and 39 percent of teen males killed were speeding.
And what about the epidemic of texting while driving? Companies like Privus Mobile are working to reverse this trend with hands-free apps. According to their research, texting and driving increases the risk of a crash by 23 times. Privus notes that 49 percent of drivers admit to texting and driving, while a huge 98 percent also acknowledge that it’s unsafe. Our teens are facing an uphill battle. They are tech-savvy, constantly connected, and have little experience behind the wheel. Education, innovative apps, good boundaries, good habits, and driving a safe vehicle are all musts as we prepare them to take the keys. I can now fully understand why my parents often waited up for me to get home. I know I’ll be sleeping a lot better once I know my kids are as safe as possible as they make their milestone transitions into the awesome experience of independence. Yes, I forced myself to write that last sentence…now, onward with developing the trust to make myself believe it!
Richard Singleton, MACE, MAMFC, LPC, is the executive director at STARRY in Round Rock.