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Just dying to drive

Agriculture.com Staff 09/06/2007 @ 6:28am

This is the second time that my husband and I are parents of a 15-year-old. It's not any easier when it comes to the question of when to hand over the car keys. The first time around we knew that traffic crashes were the number one killer of teens. We realized teens had higher crash rates than older drivers and they were in more single-vehicle fatal crashes.

But this time around, our teen driver has access to new tools of destruction. A joint survey of 1,000 teens by AAA and Seventeen magazine reveals that 61% of teen drivers admit to text messaging and talking on cell phones while driving.

New research on teen brains also unfolds a flurry of red flags about their decision-making and judgment.

More than 5,000 teens died in car crashes in 2005. Statistics show that teens in the driver's seat for a year or less have the worst crash rates. Completing driver's education is a first baby step. Parents need to stay close to help teens refine their skills.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, teens are more likely at fault in crashes. Many involve speeding and drinking. But there are two other risk factors:

1. Driving at night. 27% of driving deaths among 16- to 19-year-olds occur between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.

2. Transporting other teens. One teen passenger with a teen driver doubles the risk of a fatal crash. It's five times as high with two or more teen riders.

Some states have graduated driver's licenses that phase in night driving and peer riders. Studies show that restrictions reduce new-driver crashes.

New research indicates there's a biological basis for impulsive teen behavior. From ages 11 to 14, kids lose substantial connections between cells in the part of the brain that controls reason and decision-making.

The explanation is that the brain is pruning unnecessary wiring to make way for more efficient information-processing adult skills. That may continue until the early 20s.

That's why I'm not a fan of school permits at age 14. Youths with school permits are 6.5 times more likely to be cited for moving violations and 11.5 times more apt to be in a crash than those with instruction permits.

Farmers often take pride in teaching their preteens to drive tractors. Successful Farming research shows that they generally disapprove of children driving tractors, but they feel their kids are capable. The risks escalate for teens driving cars.

Finally, we adults need to be better role models. How many times do we eat a sandwich, switch a radio station, or take a call while driving?

Every day 13 teens die in vehicles driven by other teens or themselves. Parents today can tap new resources that zero in on teen responsibility (see Web sites below).

When it comes to teaching our kids to take the safe road home, we are in the driver's seat.

This is the second time that my husband and I are parents of a 15-year-old. It's not any easier when it comes to the question of when to hand over the car keys. The first time around we knew that traffic crashes were the number one killer of teens. We realized teens had higher crash rates than older drivers and they were in more single-vehicle fatal crashes.

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