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Parents Influence Teen Driver Safety

Source: USA Today

Posted on 25 Sep 2009

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Two studies coming out in the journal "Pediatric" today show that parents have a big impact on the safety of teen drivers.

Parents who are actively involved in setting rules and boundaries, and following up on those rules, lead to safer drivers. Teens who say their parents are actively involved cut their risk of drinking and driving by 70%, are half as likely to speed and 30% less likely to use a cellphone. And kids who don't have access to their "own" car -- they have to ask for the keys -- are half as likely to get into a crash.

"The real message of this paper is that parents matter," says Ken Ginsburg, associate professor of pediatrics at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and author of one of the papers. "If you take this seriously and you are an active parent that gives appropriate rules and appropriate boundaries combined with warmth and support, you can actually make a tremendous difference here."

In 2008, 4,400 teenagers died in car accidents. Car accidents are the leading cause of death for people 16 to 20 years old. The risk of teen-related accidents goes up dramatically when there are passengers in the car, if the teen is speeding, or if they've been drinking or using drugs.

Ginsburg says parents who are most effective at curbing bad driving behavior are those who enforce strict rules, but in a kind way. Parents need to send a message that they are looking out for their teen's safety, and give them opportunities to earn more privileges as their driving skills progress.

Ginsburg suggests parents should set rules like no passengers in the car for the first six to 12 months of driving, limit driving time during bad weather, and enforce curfews.

Parents should also control the keys to their teen's car, he says. Teens who consider themselves the primary driver of a car are twice as likely to crash than a teen who is driving a family car.

Laurette Stiles, vice president of strategic resources for State Farm Insurance, says she hopes the studies will encourage parents to spend more time practicing driving with their teens.

"Parents have the opportunity to reinforce over and over what the teens learn in driver's ed," she says. "That becomes more important than what they're learning in the classroom."

Driver's Edge, a non-profit group that teaches teens road skills, is developing programs that will talk directly to parents.

"A parent who can become involved in a teen's driver education ... has this great opportunity to be involved in so much of their kid's life in a way that's not overbearing," says Steven Tepper, president and chief operating officer of Driver's Edge.