Common Risks Faced by Teen Drivers (And How to Manage Them)
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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...
UPDATED: Nov 1, 2023
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Getting a driver’s license is a teenage rite of passage, but it can lead to a lot of headaches and sleepless nights for parents. Novice drivers need to be taught safe driving behavior.
Accidents can’t always be avoided. Even if your teenager is a safe driver who makes good choices on the highway, there are many other variables at work. Distractions, bad weather, and poor road conditions can all play a part in causing collisions.
Auto accidents can threaten your child’s safety and can also lead to higher insurance premiums. However, if you teach your student driver how to prevent car accidents by being a defensive driver, the possibility of an accident — and higher premiums — can be greatly reduced. And remember, your teenager watches everything you do. Be a role model while you’re driving with your teen in the car. Parents of teen drivers have just as much responsibility as their newly licensed teens.
What are examples of driver distractions?
Avoiding distractions is the easiest way to cut down on the chances of an accident, but unfortunately, distracted driving is extremely common. According to distracted driving statistics on Distraction.gov, a government website that exists to educate drivers on the dangers of distraction, 18% of collisions that led to motor vehicle injuries in 2010 were the result of distractions. Student drivers are especially at risk, as 11% of drivers under 20 who were involved in motor vehicle accidents that caused deaths were distracted drivers. Unfortunately, there are a wide range of distractions facing teen drivers today. A sample of drivers’ most common distractions include:
Texts and Phone Calls
One of the biggest distractions for young drivers is cell phone use. Teens and adults alike have a tendency to answer phone calls and reply to text messages while driving. According to Distraction.gov, using a cell phone while driving can cause the driver to miss out on 4.6 seconds of road time, which can then cause an accident. Firmly instruct your teen to avoid reading and replying to text messages, and encourage them to save phone calls for off the road.
Eating on the Go
Other distractions can lead to collisions as well. Eating, reading, or even changing a radio station can cause a driver to take his or her eyes off the road and thereby risk a collision. You may be able to do these things easily and safely, but inexperienced drivers do not have the skillset. Cutting down on those distractions or even avoiding them entirely can help decrease the possibility of an accident.
If your teen is not getting enough sleep, their reaction time will be diminished and they may not be able to think clearly behind the wheel. Talk to your teen about how much sleep they’re getting each night and make sure they know this is an important priority. Fatal crashes occur all the time from drivers falling asleep at the wheel. You may also want to limit their nighttime driving, as this is typically when people are at their drowsiest and pose the greatest crash risk on the road.
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Should you consider a parent-teen driving agreement?
To avoid traffic violations or other risky driving behavior, draft a parent-teen driving contract to establish firm expectations in relation to your teen’s driving behavior. Avoiding distractions like texting and driving is an excellent place to start on a driving contract, but to learn more visit our article on Driving Contracts. These contractual agreements require teens to accept terms as confirmed by a signature, making it easier for parents to revoke privileges when a teen displays risky driving behavior.
Can bad weather challenge teen driving skills?
Not all teen driving accidents are caused by distractions. Bad weather usually means poor driving conditions and these elements can challenge even the most experienced drivers. Parents of teenage drivers must teach their children how to drive defensively in all conditions. Some common ways to counter the effects of bad weather include the following:
- Fog. When it is foggy out, have your student use his or her low beam lights. Low beams will help increase visibility without causing a reflection off of the fog. Also encourage your student to use windshield defrosters and, if necessary, open windows.
- Snow and Sleet. It’s best not to drive when it’s snowing or sleeting outside, but if your student has no choice, advise him or her to keep a clear windshield and to drive slowly. It is also important to avoid bridges and overpasses, as they can become icy and cause a vehicle to skid.
- Floods. Under no circumstances is it ever safe to drive through flooded roads. A very low six inches of water is enough to cause a vehicle to float off of the ground, so avoiding floods is the only way to stay safe. In an emergency situation, if your student’s vehicle winds up in a flood and stalls, tell your student that he or she should abandon the vehicle and seek higher ground immediately.
Although adhering to these guidelines can make a difference in the risk of collisions, they won’t always keep a vehicle from experiencing trouble. It is possible that your student may momentarily lose control of the vehicle. If that happens, here are some ways to avoid a bad accident:
- If the vehicle skids, avoid applying too much pressure to the gas or brake. Slowly turn the wheel in the direction of the back of the vehicle until the car straightens out, and look in the direction you want the car to go – don’t look at where the car is skidding. By pointing your attention to the direction you want the car to go, you’ll have more focus in steering the car back on the roadway and away from danger. If the vehicle continues to skid back and forth, as also called “fishtailing”, continue to turn the wheel in the direction of the rear.
- On wet roads the vehicle’s tires may lift off of the road and skid across patches of water on the roadway, an event known as hydroplaning. If this happens, your student should slowly take his or her foot off of the gas. It’s best to avoid using the brakes, but if that is impossible, tap them gently. Your student should also drive as slowly as possible in wet conditions. To avoid hydroplaning, your student should only drive on tires that have good tread and should avoid making sharp turns or curves.
- If your student’s vehicle experiences brake failure, instruct your student to first take his or her foot off of the gas then pump the brakes, which can help build pressure in the braking system, and notify other drivers by putting the hazard lights on. Try to slow down by using the emergency brake and by steering sharply side to side. If possible, use surroundings like a guard rail to also facilitate stopping and, eventually, a safe crash.
Finally, ensure that your student performs routine maintenance on his or her vehicle. Driving a car that is up-to-date on all maintenance procedures is much safer than driving one that is overdue for tweaks and repairs.
The safer your student is behind the wheel, the cheaper it will be to keep him or her insured. While these tips are common knowledge to most adult drivers, the unwritten rules of the road are completely unknown to most licensed teen drivers. Even if students seem to have a good handle on the basics of driving, they will need your help long after the driver’s test is over and their license has been obtained. Encourage your teen to wear a seat belt, stay under the speed limit, and to practice safe driving habits. Educating your student on risky behavior and how to avoid collisions will decrease the possibility of an accident, keeping teen drivers safe and your insurance rates low.