Graduation day comes early for teen drivers
It’s been a few years since I got my driver’s license. OK, a bunch of years. But I’m proud to say I’ve been accident-free for most of that time.
Was it luck or skill? Probably a little of both.
It’s hard to imagine distractions teenagers face driving today. Wait. No it isn’t. Adult drivers face those distractions, too. We just have the benefit of more time behind the wheel.
In high school, like many of my friends, I lived a few miles from town. We got our experience driving several miles to and from school or work. We’d spend weekends together, taking turns driving. Often the last thing on our minds was the road ahead. And the distractions only multiplied when we were together.
In a way, we graduated to the driving world before we graduated to the real world.
That’s still true for today’s teens. Consider these findings from a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) focus group with teen drivers. When describing “talking to friends” while driving, teens admitted some other, rather shocking activities, including:
- Friends covering up the driver’s eyes or tickling the driver.
- Friends encouraging the driver to speed.
- A likelier chance the teen driver would “show off” in front of friends while driving.
Those things happen. They happened to me and my friends when we were just learning to drive. Admittedly, some of my best high school memories involved a road trip of some sort – to an out-of-town football game or routine trip to a friend’s house. Today’s teen drivers face those distractions, along with cell phones, texting, Facebook, iPods and more.
A gradual solution
It’s unrealistic to keep teens from driving places together. What I do believe in is backed by NHTSA data – and that’s a graduated driver’s license (GDL) program. These programs have been shown to reduce crashes of young, novice drivers by 20 to 50 percent.
The NHTSA’s GDL plan, which it shared with Congress in 2008, incorporates a learner’s stage, a provisional license and ultimately an unrestricted license. A key component is limiting passengers – including a ban on teen passengers early on. Teens may not appreciate the restrictions, but that’s really what driving – and life – is about. Learn the rules, follow them and you’re rewarded – in this case with a driver’s license.
Preparing for a future generation of safe teen drivers
I’m starting to point out different driving behaviors to my son, who turned 12 recently. He’s still a few years away from getting behind the wheel, but I figure it’s OK to plant the seed now. So I put the cell phone in my pocket and let his sister fiddle with the music.
Being a safe driver is a life lesson I want my kids to take with them, long after they’ve graduated.
Editor's note: During Teen Driver Safety Week, talk with your family about distracted driving and what it takes to be a better driver. If you need some motivation, get everyone to take the American Family Insurance Safe Driver Pledge. And just for taking the pledge, we’ll enter you in a drawing for one of 10 $250 gift cards.