301 W. Franklin Street
Taylorville, IL 62568
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FROM THE SHERIFF’S DESK VOL. 2, NUMBER 5
By Sheriff Bruce Kettelkamp
HELPING OUR TEENS TO DRIVE MORE SAFELY
In just a short time, summer begins. We are already moving into that time of year when our driving miles begin to increase. And when you have teens, especially those who have just recently received their driving licenses, our concerns begin increasing too.
The first year of driving experience is the toughest, with crash rates the highest during that first year of driving. But the summer is an especially difficult time for all teen driving. They’re driving more and oftentimes with other teens which frequently results in dangerous distractions. That’s one reason why the deadliest months of the year for teenage motor vehicle fatalities are the months of June, July, and August.
So let’s take a look at four major problem areas that contribute to these results. Understanding what they are is the first step in the effort to overcome them.
SAFETY BELTS. The failure to wear safety belts is proven to play a major role in serious accidents. Unfortunately, teens have the lowest safety belt usage rate of all drivers.
How serious is this? According to a study of teens and young adult drivers conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 56% of those drivers who died in crashes were not wearing their safety belts.
The U.S. Department of Transportation studies produced similar results. Both organizations recommend that parents establish safety belt use as an absolute rule for using the car.
We also know that many teens consider safety belts necessary only on highways or long trips. We have to teach them that most crashes happen in the neighborhood and that serious injuries can occur even at local driving speeds.
In conclusion, safety belts are always necessary.
SPEEDING. This is another major factor in teen driving fatalities. One study showed that 37% of fatal crashes with 15 to 20 year old males driving involved speeding. Many of these occur because teens, when distracted by something, only have the reaction time of a 70-year-old. At high-speed driving rates, that can be a problem too difficult to overcome.
Speeding also produces an unexpected result that increases danger. For example, just going 40 in a 30 mph zone may not sound very significant, but that “small” increase in speed translates into a 78% increase in collision energy making any such crash more dangerous and often more deadly.
That’s one reason we should always set a good example when we are driving with our teens. Be sure to teach them that excessive speed can be deadly and that we mean what we say about it.
DUI. Simply put, DUI should never be allowed to occur. Alcohol is involved in approximately 40% of all fatal car crashes. How dangerous is that? It kills 6.5 times more teens than all illegal drugs combined. Drivers with a blood alcohol content of only .02 to .055 are 7 times more likely to die in a crash than sober drivers.
Yet oftentimes peer pressure can result in someone exceeding all sensible limits just to be “in with the group.”
When teens drink and drive, they are risking everything for nothing.
DISTRACTED DRIVING. This is a major concern, in part because technology provides to the teen population an ever-growing number of appealing products to draw their interest. A NHTSA study at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute concluded that 80% of crashes and 65% of near crashes involve some form of driver distraction. In 2009, more than 5,000 people were killed, and an additional 448,000 were injured, in crashes on U.S. roadways that were reported to have involved distracted driving. The greatest proportion of distracted drivers were under the age of 20. In fact over 90% of teens admit to doing multiple tasks while driving.
In one study over 75% of teens admit to text messaging while driving. The study also reported that, along with texting, the other principal actions that cause distracted driving and lead to vehicle crashes are: cell phone use, reaching for a moving object inside the vehicle, looking at an object or event outside the vehicle, reading, and applying makeup.
Any of these can result in slower response and reaction time. Even if these occur while you are simply driving along, the result may be any number of dangerous, even fatal situations.
AN IMPORTANT IDEA TO HELP ACHIEVE THE GOAL OF GUIDING TEENS TO MINIMIZE THESE PROBLEMS.
So, in view of these facts, and the consequences of not being able to control them, the question is “How can you help your teen to become a safer driver.”
Obviously, talking to your teen about these problems and factors is necessary. Parents are the role models in this situation. Frank and open discussions will help to define the problems that need attention and create solutions.
Talk with your teen with the understanding that being aware of these concerns is a healthy start on the way to overcoming them. Be sure you and your teen participate in the discussion.
Another procedure that has proven to be successful is to enter into a Driving Contract with your teen. The idea is to identify the factors that are important for the teen’s awareness and intention to do what is right. Parents and teens review each item and sign the contract indicating their understanding and acceptance.
There are several of these contracts on the internet. For example, visit http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/publications/pdf_publications/dsd_a211.pdf and you’ll find a Parent – Teen Driving Contract from the Illinois Secretary of State.
You can find numerous other examples of contracts by Googling the phrase “parent teen driving contract.”
It takes a lot to make these ideas functional and effective this summer. There’s no question that it’s worth every bit of the effort required.
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