Hitting the Road: 8 Ways for Teens to Stay Safe this Summer in the Car

8 Ways for Teens to Stay Safe this Summer in the CarIt is finally summer, a time for teens to enjoy a break away from school and spend time (possibly an excessive amount) hanging out with friends, making memories and cruising around town. If your teen (or his/her friends) has a driver’s license, they have (a certain amount) of freedom. However, driving is not just a privilege but it is an incredible responsibility. As my old Driver’s Ed teacher used to say, “A car is a 3,000 lb lethal weapon.” Although he was saying this to try to get us to pay attention in class (zzzzzz…….), he was right on. Did you know that accidents are the #1 cause of death in adolescents and young adults? According to the CDC, about 292,000 teens were in the emergency room for injuries secondary to car crashes and 2,650 teens in the US (ages 16-19) were killed in car crashes in 2011 alone, which equates to about 7 teenagers a day!


Why do teens stink at driving? Obviously, they have less experience overall and the risk of accidents increases in the first few months after getting a license. They are more likely to underestimate dangerous situations, more likely to speed, more likely to tailgate (drive too close to the car ahead of them), and more likely to drive distracted. Speaking of distractions, the presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers. This risk increases with the number of teen passengers.


So what can you do this summer to keep your teen and their friends safe behind the wheel while still giving them a taste of freedom?  Here are the safe driving rules that are important to discuss with your teen:


  1. Don’t drive when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. According to the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the CDC, 1% of high school seniors nationwide (14.9% in Wisconsin) have driven a car while drinking alcohol in the past month.
  2. Don’t get in the car with someone who has been drinking alcohol or is under the influence of drugs. In 2013, 22% of teens reported being in the car where the driver had been drinking alcohol and almost a quarter of fatal motor vehicle crashes occur when drinking. Sometimes the driver is a friend, sometimes it’s a parent.
  3. Buckle your seat belt EVERY TIME and wear it properly. Studies have shown that up to half of deaths and injuries can be prevented if passengers are wearing a seat belt properly. Unfortunately, statistics show that about 55% of high school students always wear seat belts when riding with a friend. Even if “technically” wearing the seat belt, you have to be wearing it properly for your seat belt to have its full effectiveness at keeping you safe (this goes for you too, Parents). You need to have the lap belt across your hips (hence the name “lap belt” and not “waist belt”), and the shoulder sash snug across your chest. That means not putting the shoulder belt behind your back because it’s more comfortable or because you can move around better. Also, make sure that all the passengers in your car are buckled.
  4. Limit distractions. Nearly 42% of teens have texted while driving in the past month. Don’t text on your phone and try to limit distractions when driving so that you can get yourself and everyone home safely.
  5. Don’t drive if you’re not fully awake and aware. If you are tired and are having difficulties staying awake when driving, pull over to the side of a safe street and call someone responsible to pick you up so you can get home safely
  6. Trust your instincts: Don’t get in a car and drive or be a passenger in someone’s car if you don’t feel like you will get home safely
  7. Follow the rules of the road. They are there to keep you safe and healthy.
  8. Think of the future: Things can happen on the road in the blink of an eye so protect yourself, your friends, and your future.


Parents, it’s important that you set a good example for your teens.  Make sure you also follow the rules. For more resources on how you can keep your teen safe behind the wheel, check out Parents are the Key to Safe Teen Drivers.