Teens at greatest risk when driving with other teen passengers

Brownwood Bulletin
Courtney Parrott

The pandemic has not changed the fact that motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death for teens 15-to-19 years old in the U.S. and in Texas.

Due to their lack of driving experience teens are more likely to underestimate dangerous situations or make critical decision errors that can lead to crashes.

Distraction from other teen passengers adds to the risk. Studies have shown that that crash risk increases with the number of passengers under age 21. According to a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the crash risk increases by 44% for one passenger, doubles for two passengers and quadruples when carrying three or more passengers under 21.

The good news is that parents can help make a difference by talking to their teens about safe driving and enforcing the safe driving rules.  These rules are also part of the Texas Graduated Driver’s License Law (GDL).

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Family and Community Health Educator Courtney Parrott, Brown County reminds parents to take advantage of National Teen Driver Safety Week to talk to their teens about staying safe on the road. Remember, one of the most important safety features for your teen driver is YOU.

Parents should serve as role models to teen drivers and emphasize the six safety tips listed below. 

Behind-the-Wheel Teen Safety Tips

1. No passengers. Passengers under 21 in the car are one of the biggest distractions for teen drivers. 

2. No cellphone use. Cellphone use is prohibited by the Texas GDL and also for all drivers under the age of 18.

3. No speeding. Speeding is one of the top three mistakes that teens make when learning to drive.

4. No drowsy driving. The typical teen does not get enough sleep each night making them more at risk when driving.

5. No alcohol.  There is a zero-tolerance law in Texas for those under 21. 

6. Always buckle up! Most teens killed in vehicle crashes were not buckled up.

First, parents should be familiar with the Graduated Driver License Law (GDL) that protects teen drivers in the beginning stages of their driving. Parents should get involved with their teens and stay involved through their teen driving years to make sure they follow good driving habits.

Here is a list of tips for parents from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Remind your teen driver that driving is a privilege, not a right. If they aren’t following the rules of the road, they don’t get to have the keys to the car.

Whether you own the vehicle, or your teen owns the vehicle, they are living under your roof, and they need to follow the rules. This also means that, whether they want to or not, they need to listen to what you have to say about driving safety.

Talk to your teen driver about driving laws. If they can’t follow the law, they can’t drive the car. You could save their life.

Talking to your child about the importance of safe driving habits may feel tiresome for both parent and teen at times but keep working at it. They are listening and they depend on you to set and enforce the rules.

Remind teens about the GDL and the restrictions on passengers in the vehicle, cell phone use and nighttime driving.

Practice constant communication about safe driving skills. Self-reported surveys show that teens with parents who set and enforce firm rules for driving typically engage in less risky driving behaviors and are involved in fewer crashes. Don’t look at the conversation as nagging or bothersome — your teen is counting on you to not only set a good example, but to enforce the rules.

Be a good role model for your teen driver and set an example with your own safe driving habits.

Talk to your teen about safe cell phone use while in the car. Encourage them to stow their phones while driving, designate a texter, or to pull over before answering phone calls or responding to text messages.

Bottom line is that as a parent you need to know the dangers that teen driving poses. Your teen may be in the driver’s seat, but parents are in control. Parents can be the biggest influencers on teens' choices behind the wheel if they take the time to talk with their teens about some of the biggest driving risks not just during National Teen Driver Safety Week, but every week! Parents have more influence over teen driving than they realize.  Be a good example and get involved in their driving habits from the beginning and stay involved for the duration of their teen years.

For more information visit https://www.nhtsa.gov/road-safety/teen-driving.