What parents can do to protect their teen driver

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Car crashes are the number one killer of teens. In fact, teenagers accounted for 10 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths in 2011. While teen fatalities have declined over time, more work needs to be done to prevent these tragic accidents. Highlighting the continued challenges, October 21-25 has been designated Teen Driver Safety Week and this year’s theme involves teens working with parents to become safe, skilled drivers. 

No one knows better about the dangers of teen driving than Tim Hollister. He is an attorney who lives in the Hartford area and has become a well-known advocate for teen-driver laws and best practices following the loss of his son Reid in a vehicle crash on December 2, 2006.  (Tim publishes a safety-related blog called From Reid's Dad.)

Thanks in part to the work of people like Tim, the past seven years have seen big changes in teen driver laws. Many states now have some level of graduated licensing (GDL) for new drivers. Provisions of such laws address key concerns associated with young drivers, including their lack of experience and good driving judgment, the risks associated with passengers, their propensity to engage in risky behaviors (e.g., texting or cell phone use), and the added risks of driving at night.

Mr. Hollister recently published a booked based on his experience titled “Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving,” which offers advice for parents of teen drivers. He explains GDL programs and the challenges of driver education programs among other topics. In the book, he offers two practical tips for parents to keep in mind, as follows.

Air traffic control: If you're the parent of a teen driver, treat your child's trips somewhat like an air traffic controller. Much like a pilot would have to file a flight plan and consider key items before "taking off," your driving teen should do the same.

Items to include in their "flight plan":

  • Destination
  • Route
  • Time of day they are traveling
  • When they are expected to depart and arrive
  • What car they are driving
  • Their plan for contacting someone
  • What is their contingency plan should something go wrong
  • Confirm they feel rested and alert (fatigue can be of particular concern for teenagers)

If they can't give you a clear answer on these items then perhaps it's not a trip they should be taking. And of course, should any of the answers change during their trip, they must contact you as the controller to revise the flight plan.

No cruising: The act of "just driving around" can be dangerous and risky. When teens are expected at a particular destination and at a certain time such as a date or a party they have much more incentive to drive in a way that gets them there safely. Purposeful driving is more likely to result in a safe outcome for all than joyriding. It was this that struck a personal note with me as I recalled my own "small town" teen nights of "just driving around" and the risks we took. If your teen's flight plan includes the answer "just driving around," perhaps they need a new plan or need to turn over the keys.

For more on teen driving, see our special section.

Jennifer Stockburger



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