By Stephanie Shaw, NTSB Safety Advocate
My youngest son is 16 and a newly licensed driver. He’s had his license for about 4 months. Statistically, as a driver, the cards are stacked against him. For young drivers like him, the first 6 months of unsupervised driving are the most dangerous. As a mom, I’m terrified.
Memorial Day marked the beginning of the “100 Deadliest Days” for young drivers. All parents should know that during this driving season, crashes involving 16- to 19-year-olds spike more than among any other age group. Per mile driven, our teens are nearly three times more likely than other drivers to be in a fatal crash.
For seven summers now, the “100 deadliest days” have been the “100 scariest days” for me, only lessening slightly as my older son entered his 20s. Now my younger son is a newly licensed driver and the terror is freshly upon me again.
And I’m not alone. Just as many students revel in summer freedoms, throw themselves into summer jobs, take trips away from home, and celebrate life late into some nights, their parents worry over their safety.
Don’t get me wrong. My sons are, overall, good young drivers. But during the 100 Deadliest Days, young drivers are getting behind the wheel with cellphones in hand, or drowsy from long summer nights. And they are spending more time behind the wheel. A recent AAA study found that each year over a recent 5-year period, an average of 1,022 people died in crashes involving teen drivers during the 100 Deadliest Days.
What makes driving during this time of year so deadly for teens? Mostly lack of experience.
Help your teens gain experience by taking them out for drives not just on sunny days, but in the rain and, in a few months, the snow. Allow them to experience driving in heavy traffic conditions, merging, and making left turns.
Parents, I know it’s scary, but rest assured, you’re doing the safe thing. Students have to learn by doing, and the best way to do that is with a responsible adult driver next to them. And note: that doesn’t mean they should go out driving with a slightly older teen! Teen passengers significantly increase a teen driver’s risk of being in a crash. Teen drivers should not carry passengers under age 21—not their friends, and not their siblings or other young family members.
My sons know that I live for those moments when they bring up road safety. (That’s one hazard of having a mom who works for the NTSB!) Although I only started emphasizing safe driving behaviors once my sons learned to drive, I’ve not been shy about sharing them since.
Fellow parents, it’s our responsibility to talk to our young drivers about avoiding distracting activities, like talking on a cell phone, texting, posting on social media, skipping a song on their playlist, or trying to use navigation apps, while driving. And of course, it’s our responsibility to remind them to always buckle up! Most importantly, we need to demonstrate safe driving habits ourselves. Don’t just give good advice—set a good example.
I’m proud of how often I see my sons doing the little things right (although as a mom, I’ll always worry). I know I’m not alone in this, either. I’m confident that other parents are proud of their kids’ safe driving progress too, even if it seems they only notice the little things their student driver is doing wrong.
This summer talk with the young people in your life about safe driving and the hazards they’ll be up against over the next 100 days. Doing so will ensure that they have many thousands of days ahead.