Keeping teen drivers safe: Part II

By Joan Hunt - ReminderNews Managing Editor
Connecticut - posted Thu., Nov. 14, 2013
- Contributed Photo

Parents are often the last line of defense available to a teen driver before he or she gets behind the wheel of a car. According to Connecticut author Tom Hollister, this is a critical time period and not to be taken lightly. In his book “Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving,” he uses the analogy of a pilot getting cleared for take-off as an example for parents sending their teens out on the road.

“Teens should be required to file a flight plan and get permission from the tower – you – before taking off,” Hollister writes. Included in the elements of the “flight plan” should be information like exactly where the teen is going, the route to be taken, a contingency plan if the intended route is blocked or unavailable and a departure time, route and timetable for the return trip. Also important is a passenger list, a check-off that all the vehicle’s equipment is in good working order, and the assurance that the teen is well rested and in an alert mental state.

This may sound like overkill in preparation for a short drive to the store, but Hollister warns that this kind of preparation can literally save a teen’s life. He said he wishes he had been made aware of these things before his son, Reid, began driving. Although he did all the things that were required – and a little more – Reid died in a car crash in 2006, 11 months after getting his driver’s license.

Hollister participated in a state task force that resulted in stricter teen driving laws in Connecticut, and in the process he learned a lot of valuable information that he has spent the last several years imparting to parents of other teens.

Part I of this story (read it at noted that speed has been the major factor in teen driving deaths this year in Connecticut. But many other factors contribute to teen accidents, and all of them can be helped.

When speaking to groups about safe teen driving, Master Sergeant Donna Tadiello, a spokesperson with the Connecticut Police, echoes one of the major messages of Hollister’s book – that teen drivers’ lack of experience puts them at a distinct disadvantage on the road. 
“Teen drivers simply lack the experience of adjusting to things like climate changes. It is difficult enough for a seasoned driver to adjust to the onset of sudden changes like a downpour, icing or foglike conditions,” said Tadiello. “In an inexperienced driver it increases the risk of them getting into an accident.”

Tadiello suggests that parents – or whoever might be teaching the teenager to drive – take the teen out to expose them to situations like inclement weather, but that they should do that in a controlled environment rather than on narrow roads. An empty parking lot, for example, is a good place for a teen to experience the difference in stopping, starting and turning when roads are slick or when snow or fog hampers visibility.

In his book, Hollister says, “it is well-documented that driving deteriorates when teens begin to drive unsupervised.” He believes this is a change in attitude. Add other teen passengers to the mix, and you have a recipe for disaster. Why? Now you must factor in peer pressure to all the other dangers an inexperienced driver faces on the road. Clearly, there is going to be conversation, maybe the passengers in the back seat are talking on their cell phones and the driver also becomes involved in that conversation. Possibly somebody suggests that the driver should go a little faster over the hill. This kind of behavior doesn’t happen when mom or dad is in the car, but it is very hard to resist when they aren’t.

There are now restrictions in Connecticut for times and types of passengers that are allowed to be in a car driven by a teen, and they are there for these reasons. “Having additional passengers in the car not only adds to the risk of a crash, but the chance of injury increases with each additional passenger present,” said Tadiello. “The fact is  that many teens will give into peer pressure and that when they drive alone they are less likely to drive in an unsafe manner.”

Tadiello said that when parents take an active role in their teens’ driving safety it reinforces to the child how important the subject is and that their parents’ concern for them is very reassuring. She said parents should try to be aware of any road closures or construction that may be happening on routes their teens are traveling.

When Hollister shares his experiences with groups, he suggests they use the Teen-Parent Driver Agreement that has been prepared by the DMV Commissioner’s Advisory Committee on Teen Safe Driving. It includes talking points about safe driving and a place for both teen drivers and their supervising adults to sign off on promises to cooperate in this important endeavor. The teen promises not to drive before or after curfew, to NEVER drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or without sufficient rest, to always wear a seatbelt and other things that Hollister suggests in his air traffic controller scenario. The adults agree to be a good role model, to teach safe driving habits and to give their teens a ride any time they find themselves in a dangerous driving or other situation.

The plain fact is that motor vehicle crashes are the #1 killer of teens. By taking charge of this very important part of the equation, parents can help put the odds in their child’s favor.

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