Young people ages 15-24 represent only 14% of the U.S. population. However, they account for 30 percent ($19 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among males and 28 percent ($7 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among females.1
The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.2
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the leading causes of teenage crashes are as follows:
- Driver inexperience
- Driving with teen passengers
- Nighttime driving
- Not using seat belts
- Distracted driving
- Drowsy driving
- Reckless driving
- Impaired driving
Confronted with these staggering statistics, it is only right that we take steps to address this with our children.
While the prospect of getting a driver’s license is an exciting step for teenagers, parents have to be mindful of the risks associated with young drivers in their formative years. Unfortunately, the worry over executing the parallel park during the road test should be the least of parents’ concerns. It is ever so important for parents to instill in their teenagers the responsibility that comes along with driving an automobile. This is especially true considering the wide range of distractions present now as compared to the recent past. For instance, we all recognize the growth of multi-media applications regularly accessed and used by teens on their cell phones, IPods or tablets.
Parents must be resolute in setting forth ground rules with their young drivers. Driving is, after all, a privilege – one that perhaps we take for granted, but that endows us with civic and personal responsibility. Do our young people truly internalize these concepts? Do they understand the power inherent with operating a motor vehicle? Do they consider the consequences of aggressive driving? We were all there once. Our focus at sixteen or seventeen was the freedom and fun associated with getting a driver’s license. I would submit that young folks today have similar interests.
You should not be timid or embarrassed to lay down strict rules with your teenage drivers. Our children are the center of our lives and we’ll do anything to protect them and ensure their safety. It’s not important to be the cool parent. Perhaps consider one or more of the following suggestions for ground rules:
- Your teenager does not have to get his/her license at the very moment he/she is eligible. If he/she is not working or not participating in an activity that would require transportation not otherwise available, perhaps consider waiting. This would be especially true for parents who feel that their child is not ready for the responsibility that comes along with driving.
- While it may seem obvious, reinforce the seriousness of driving under the influence. The topic should not be taboo, but rather one that parents should broach with their children.
- You should determine the friends that you trust to drive your teenager. Whether it’s to after-school practice, the movies or a part-time job, make sure you are comfortable with the friend or teammate who is driving your child. Once again, do not be afraid to prohibit your child from travelling with another teenager who you don’t fully trust.
- Take the opportunity to establish a vested interest in the eyes of your teenager. If your child has a job, perhaps mandate that he/she contribute to the car payment, insurance or repairs. The obvious benefit is that the teenager will appreciate the privilege of driving.
- Practice good driving habits as parents. For the first 16-18 years of his/her life, your child has been observing you driving. We can be an example for our children by practicing good driving habits.
Driving can be an amazing and fulfilling adventure for a teenager. In many cases it ushers in rich experiences, both for social and vocational advancement. It must, however, be approached with care and responsibility and the parents’ role is vital. If we try our best to send this strong message of responsibility and safety, it will go a long way toward ensuring that the driving experience of our young people is fruitful. Being the caring and loving parent is more important than being the cool parent.
Editor’s Note: Attorney Bryan Fiengo is a Director at Suisman Shapiro whose practice concentrates in the areas of criminal law (including DUI defense), employment law and general litigation. To contact Bryan Fiengo, email him at email@example.com or call (860) 442-4416.
Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law is the largest law firm in eastern Connecticut, serving the community for over 75 years with a wide range of legal services.
1Finkelstein EA, Corso PS, Miller TR, Associates. Incidence and Economic Burden of Injuries in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press; 2006.
2Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Fatality facts: teenagers 2012. Arlington (VA): The Institute; 2012 [cited 2014 Sept 29].