Are you terrified by the thought of your 16-year-old behind the wheel?
You're right to be nervous. According to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 27. Teen drivers are at risk for collisions because of their inexperience and immaturity.
Newly-licensed drivers are especially vulnerable because they typically haven't had enough practice to master the complex, split-second decision-making that driving a car requires. Adding passengers to the mix increases the danger.
"The culture in a car changes completely when you get a gang of teenagers in it," says Julie Rochman, director of communications for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "Teens think they are super-people and they take risks adults would not."
But careful teen drivers are made, not born.
What Parents Can Do
Requiring your child to take driver's education is a good first step (and cuts your car insurance costs). But a course will only teach your teen the rules of the road and how to pass the driver's license test. Students may spend 30 hours in the classroom, but as little as 6 hours actually driving.
That's why you have to give your child many more hours of supervised practice on the road in various kinds of weather and driving conditions. Some experts recommend that teens have at least 200 hours of driving time before they apply for their licenses.
Graduated Licensing Saves Lives
Approximately half the states now have three-part graduated licensing, and others are considering such laws this year. Provisions vary widely, but the typical steps are:
Regardless of your state's law, experts say that your teen should not be allowed to drive unsupervised with other teen passengers for the first six months after obtaining a full license.
Set a Good Example
You're the driving role model for your children. They need to see you consistently buckle up, obey traffic laws, never speed, refrain from chatting on the cell phone, be courteous to pedestrians and other drivers, and stay calm when traffic is particularly frustrating.