Keeping Your Teen Driver Safe

This content has been clinically reviewed by Maneesha Agarwal, M.D

As parents, we do everything we can to protect our children as they grow up. We buckle them into car safety seats, enroll them in swimming lessons and nag them about wearing a helmet when they ride their bikes.

But when they reach 16, and head out into the world as the driver of a car, we can only hope that they'll heed our words: "Be careful and wear your seat belt.

Unfortunately, statistics show that many teenagers don't listen.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teenagers. Further, more than half of teens who die in car crashes weren't wearing a seat belt, a statistic that hasn't substantially changed over the last decade even though research shows that seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half.

Distracted driving is a major issue, too, as teens use their cell phones to talk, text and even take selfies while driving.

A Safe Kids Georgia survey of 1,000 teens found that teenagers who don’t use seat belts are more likely to say they also text while driving than those who do wear seat belts – meaning one small act of precaution really could be a lifesaver.

Injuries and Deaths Are Preventable

The good news is that injuries and deaths are preventable. Remember the old adage: Actions speak louder than words. You can influence your kids to drive safely by being a good role model yourself, starting long before they’re ready to drive or ride with friends. Always buckle up and follow the speed limit, and never talk on the phone or text while driving.

This sounds like common sense, but more than half of the teens who responded to the Safe Kids Georgia survey said they had seen a parent talking on the phone while driving, and 28 percent had ridden in a car with a parent who was texting. Further, 31 percent of the teens said they had felt unsafe with a parent driving. Yikes. 

Danger Zones

Below, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists eight danger zones as the leading causes of teen crashes, as well as actions you can take to keep your teen drivers safe from these risks. Facts and tips from both the CDC and Safe Kids Georgia are included.   

1. Driver Inexperience

The Facts:

  • Most crashes happen during the first year a teen has his license.
  • On a per-mile driven basis, teens are eight times more likely to die in their first six months of driving than adults.

 Tips: 

  • To give kids more experience, practice driving with your teenager on a variety of roads at different times of the day and in different weather and traffic conditions. Show your teen how to constantly scan for potential hazards—young children on bikes, for instance, or pedestrians and other vehicles.
  • Consider enrolling your teen in a professional driver-education course. Serious crashes are more frequent for teens learning through parent-taught driver’s ed.

2. Driving with Teen Passengers

The Facts:

  • Crash risks spike when teens drive with other teens.
  • Most teen passenger deaths happen when another teenager is driving.
  • Almost half of teens say they have felt unsafe with a teen driver.

Tip:

  • Limit the number of teen passengers a teen can have (ideally none, and no more than from 0 to 1) for at least the first six months they are driving. Many states, including Georgia, restrict the number or ages of passengers that teens can have when they first get their license. View the Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) law in your state.

3. Nighttime Driving

The Facts:

  • Fatal crashes involving teens are more likely to occur at night.

Tip:

  • Make sure your teenager is off the road by 9 or 10 p.m. for at least the first six months he's driving. Also, practice nighttime driving with your teen.

4. Not Using Seat Belts

The Facts:

  • 1 in 4 teens surveyed said they don’t use a seat belt on every ride. Top reasons: They forgot, or it wasn’t a habit. Also, teens who don’t use a seat belt every time they drive are more likely to have parents who don’t always use a seat belt, either.
  • In half of car accident fatalities, the teen wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

Tip:

  • Always insist on seat belts for every trip—starting at birth—and set an example with your own behavior.

5. Distracted Driving

The Facts:

  • 39 percent of teens surveyed say they have ridden with a teen driver who was texting, and a whopping 95 percent say they think other teens have ridden with drivers who were texting.
  • The odds of a crash or near-crash for a newly-licensed teen driver is more than eight times greater when using a cell phone.
  • When asked what they did when a teen driver was driving dangerously, 40 percent of teens said they asked the driver to stop what he was doing; 39 percent say they did nothing.

Tips:

  • Outlaw cell phone calls, texting and selfies in the car, and set an example with your own behavior.
  • Ask your teen what they would do while riding with a driver who isn’t safe. Suggest that they ask the driver to stop or to drop them off at a shopping center where they can call you to be picked up. 

6. Drowsy Driving

The Facts:

  • Young drivers are at high risk for drowsy driving, especially early in the morning or late at night.
  • Data from the National Sleep Foundation indicates that teenagers need more sleep than any other age group and are typically sleep deprived – especially towards the end of the school week.

 Tip:

  • Make sure your child is well rested before he gets behind the wheel.

7. Reckless Driving

The Facts:

  • Teens are more likely than older drivers to speed and tailgate, particularly if male teenage passengers are in the car.

Tip:

  • Always set a good example by not speeding or tailgating, and discourage this behavior in your teen driver.

8. Impaired Driving

The Facts:

  • Although young drivers are less likely than adults to drink and drive, their crash risk is higher when they do.

Tip:

  • Discuss with your teen what to do if another teen is impaired by alcohol or drugs and tries to get behind the wheel. Encourage your teens to call you for a ride, regardless of the time or place, and promise to withhold punishment and questions.

Additional medical review for this content has been provided by Wende Parker, Child Passenger Safety Tech Instructor for Cobb and Douglas County Public Health, and Russell Henk, P.E., C.P.P.E., Program Manager and Senior Research Engineer for the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and Director of Teens in the Driver Seat.

This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.

Additional Injury Prevention Resources

For more tips on keeping your kids safe and injury-free, visit Safe Kids Georgia, the injury prevention arm of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Through their statewide network, Safe Kids educates families and the community on childhood injury prevention best practices.