Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people 15 to 20 years old. But did you know that teen driving fatalities jump 15% from Memorial Day to Labor Day? These scary statistics come from sobering CDC research. And our car insurance team sometimes witnesses the unfortunate details of teen traffic crashes when assisting our members and their families with auto claims.
To protect our young drivers, parents need to do a few critical things. They should stick to all of Virginia's new driver rules and guidelines, have regular conversations around expectations, and set an example. Teens are very sensitive to hypocrisy and determine their behavior by observing in their parent, not by what the parent says. Teen drivers can also feel invincible. The reality is that 16 and 19 years old are three times more likely to be involved in a deadly car crash than drivers 20 years old and over during these warmer months. Let's cover the top risks. We'll also give you tips on what you can do to protect your teen.
Unfortunately, young and inexperienced drivers can practice inconsistent seatbelt use. Make this a hard and fast rule- it's the law in Virginia, after all. Set an example by wearing a seatbelt while driving yourself and talk to your teen about the repercussions of not wearing one in a car accident. The mere velocity of impact almost always results in ejection and serious injury, if not death.
They should also require their passengers to wear seatbelts even in the back seat. An unbelted passenger can become a missile during a crash.
Research by the Department of Transportation found a teen's risk of being killed in a crash doubles with two passengers under 21 and quadruples with three or more under 21 passengers. Virginia's laws also have a lot to say about passenger restrictions for new drivers. You can learn more in our blog post and learn ways to cope with the pressure of enforcing Virginia's passenger restrictions with your teen. This issue can have a profound impact on your child's safety and early driving success. Passengers are a major distraction for inexperienced drivers.
Distractions are anything that takes your teen's attention off the road. They can be passengers, eating a burger, putting on makeup, and of course texting and cell phone use. Virginia's hands-free cell phone law prohibits the use of cell phones while driving, regardless of whether a device is or is not hand-held. You can only use a cell phone or any other telecommunications device for a driver emergency, and the vehicle must be lawfully parked or stopped.
Parents have to lead by example and never drive distracted. And talk with your new driver about distractions and methods of resisting them, like enabling a "do not disturb" mode on their phones while driving or parking to eat that fast food. Everyone in our family signed the pledge to commit to distraction-free driving. I regularly reminded my kids that a violation of distracted-driving laws could mean a delayed or suspended license.
Impaired and Drowsy Driving
The penalties for Virginia’s "zero tolerance" law involving teens, drugs, and alcohol include losing your license for a year and fines or community service. Explain how alcohol and drugs slow reaction time and distort reality. You think you're driving well when you’re not.
A common myth your teen hears is that you can drive high perfectly fine. Legalizing small amounts of marijuana for those 21 and older in Virginia makes some drivers think it's not a big deal to drive high, but driving impaired is illegal everywhere. Research shows that cannabis affects the critical abilities needed while driving the same way alcohol does. Reaction time, decision making, and the perception of time and distance are all impacted. Remind them regularly that lives are at stake and to speak up with friends when this issue arises. Insisting on riding only with an unimpaired driver is just as important as being one.
Teens are notorious for staying up late for all kinds of reasons but actually need 8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep to function well. They may be on their phones all night, gaming, doing school work, or just worried about things. Talk to your teen about the importance of a good night's sleep to stay alert and make critical driving decisions.
Teen fatalities related to speed have almost doubled the numbers of overall fatalities in Virginia, with 63% of those killed due to running off the road. These horrible statistics serve as stark reminders to keep the safety conversations going even after your teen has their license. It's important to consider the first car your teen drives should be after getting their license. A mid to large-size family car with good safety ratings is a smarter option than a sportier model. Better yet, let them borrow the family minivan.
Most teens are actually more afraid of getting a ticket than they are of getting injured or killed. So talk their language. Explain how getting a speeding ticket for just 20mph over the limit in Virginia can result in a $3,000 increase in premiums for auto insurance, not to mention hefty fines, community service, and possible legal expenses. Consider establishing consequences for driving infractions, like speeding, before they occur. Maybe your teen should be responsible for paying for tickets, mandatory driving classes, court fees, and insurance increases. Be clear, consistent, and follow through.
A Must Watch
We also want to share a great video below from the smart folks at IIHS that every parent should take the time to watch with their kids.
You're in Charge
We know it's stressful when your teen starts driving. Many teen drivers are very responsible as new drivers. It's so important to have regular conversations with your teen, reminding them of the responsibilities that come with driving. Teach them what to do in case they do get into a car accident. Establish clear expectations and consequences for misuse. Be prepared to take the keys if necessary. While they may be in the driver's seat, reminding them who's in charge is an important part of enforcing safe driving habits and protecting them.