Keeping Your Teen Safe Behind the Wheel

After protecting your child from dangers on and off the road, you now face the prospect of handing them the keys to the family car when they’re learning to drive. While your teen may look and sound like an adult once they get their license, they still lack real-world experience when it comes to operating a vehicle. Experts agree that it takes five years for teens to reach the skill level of most other drivers.

The Sad Truth

According to the Safe States Alliance, motor vehicle crashes currently rank as a leading cause of injury among individuals 24 years of age or younger. In fact, novice teen drivers are twice as likely as adult drivers to be involved in a fatal crash.

Here’s the rub. Teen drivers are involved in car crashes NOT because they are uninformed about the rules of the road. Rather, studies show that teens are involved in crashes because of inexperience and risk-taking, especially when driving with a teenage peer. In a recent NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) study, teens were two and a half times more likely to engage in risky behavior while driving with a teen peer rather than alone. The likelihood increases to three times when traveling with multiple teen passengers.

While new drivers might be more vulnerable to peer pressure, driving fast, and distraction from their mobile phones, the greatest risk they face is impaired driving or riding with an impaired driver.

What Is Impaired Driving?

Impaired driving is operating a car under the influence of alcohol or any other type of drug, including prescription medications. In the United States, a person is killed every 50 minutes by an impaired driver.

Alcohol isn’t just illegal for teens to consume, it can be deadly if they drink and drive. Impaired driving is entirely preventable when teens understand its dangers. It takes all of us—parents, schools, and the community—to make sure adolescents are equipped with the facts about impaired driving.

Alcohol Increases the Risk of a Crash

The legal limit for adults over the age of 21 is a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08, but impairment begins long before one reaches the 0.08 level. Research shows that some of the skills needed to drive safely begin to deteriorate even at the 0.02 blood-alcohol level. Alcohol reduces brain function by impairing thinking, reasoning, and muscle coordination—all essential to operating a vehicle safely.

A Plan to Get Home Safely

Make sure your child knows the dangers of riding with an impaired driver. Before going out for the evening, discuss the options they have to get home safely. Let them know their safety is your primary concern.

Consequences of Driving While Impaired

Usually, it isn’t the impaired driver that is injured, it is everybody around them. The knowledge that your teen could injure or kill another person is alarming enough, but there are serious consequences for driving while impaired. California has the strictest DUI laws in the country. There are large fines, jail time, and a loss of license for anyone under the age of 21 with a BAC of 0.01% or more.

How to Talk to Your Teen About Impaired Driving

Despite feeling like your teen may listen to their friends more than you, numerous studies have shown that parents make a huge difference in their teens’ decisions when it comes to alcohol-and-other-drug use. It’s important to talk to your teen about:

  • Impaired driving laws
  • Your expectations when it comes to alcohol and other drugs
  • Signs of intoxication:
    • speech problems, such as slurring or rambling
    • unusual behavior such as being rude, confused, or overly friendly
    • lack of balance and coordination
  • Their friends and the choices their friends are making
  • Safety comes first. Let them know you won’t be angry if they find themselves in a situation where they don’t feel safe. You will rescue them.
  • Option of using Uber or Lyft if they can’t reach you

The Bottom Line

You have more influence on your teen’s driving than you realize. Teach them well and stay involved—whether they’re a driver or a passenger—to ensure their safety and your peace of mind.