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Three Words I Love to Hear from My 16 Year Old

Categories: Motor Vehicle Safety

Just over a month ago, I joined the ranks of so many parents who have teens on the roads. Yet, even as I consider how well my son’s driving has developed this past year, I know many driving skills are obtained on the road, through experience.  Simply put, driving is a high risk activity, and especially risky for teenage drivers.  Did you know that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, accounting for more than one in three deaths in this age group? Those numbers translate to an alarming statistic that nearly 11 teens die in fatal car crashes every day on U.S. roads.  I’m challenged to change these outcomes, both in my role as the Acting Director of the CDC’s Injury Center and, most personally, as a parent to my 16 year old son, Nick.  

Louise and Nick's Driving Contract

Louise and Nick's Driving Contract

Graduated driver licensing systems, now in place in nearly every U.S. state, are an effective strategy for preventing crashes with new drivers. The Injury Center strongly supports GDL systems, which help teens get initial driving experience under low-risk conditions. Research suggests that GDL systems are associated with reducing injury crashes by up to 40 percent in 16-year-old drivers. Learn the details of the GDL system in your state – or better yet, encourage your teen to research the requirements and inform you, as mine did!  

 As helpful as laws on the books can be, we know a parent’s involvement with and supervision of their novice driver is a major factor in why GDL systems are so successful.  With this in mind, the Injury Center has launched a pilot communications campaign called “Parents Are the Key”. You will be hearing more about this campaign in the future, but I’d like to share with you one of its key features and one I plan to implement with Nick, the parent/teen driving contract.

This contract is designed to clarify expectations about driving behaviors, such as the use of safety belts, NO cell phone talking or texting, NO drinking and driving, strict limits to the number of underage passengers, restricted night time driving and more.  As in my contract with Nick, it is also helpful to spell out consequences for violating rules as well as include graduating steps to new privileges when guidelines are followed and experience is gained.  Finally, as empowering as communicating with our teens and agreeing rules in writing can be, parents must lead by example.  Nick’s eyes are on me each time my blackberry buzzes and beeps while I am behind the wheel.  This experience taught us both that we can easily avoid the temptation when we turn the phone off before we turn the key!

We parents cannot minimize our role in helping our teens develop into safe and competent drivers, as much for them as for others sharing the roadways.  And my reward for such intense focus on my son’s driving?  The three little words I love to hear from my 16 year old: “Mom, I’m home.”  I hope you will do all you can to hear those words from your teen and that they bring you as much peace as they do me.

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this blog is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. October 22, 2009 at 8:55 am ET  -   Sheila Porter

    As the mother of a 17.5 year old daughter, I also love to hear the back door slam and her walking through the door. Fortunately, she has been a very cautious driver and has not pushed to have more friends in the car. Her older brothers were over 18 when they started learning to drive, but of course she had to get her learners permit at 15.5.

    We also have a contract that was agreed upon and she only works one day a week where she is out after dark.

    I agree that their eyes are always on us when we are driving and I try to pay attention to what I’m doing while I’m driving, including not texting or looking at my phone. She has always been quick to point out to her father or I if we are doing something wrong.

    Link to this comment

    • AUTHOR COMMENT November 6, 2009 at 3:57 pm ET  -   Louise Galaska, MPA

      Ms. Porter, thank you very much for your comment. The steps you are taking – such as creating a driving contract and serving as a positive role model while driving – can truly help to keep your daughter safe behind the wheel. Thank you for your commitment to teen driver safety.

      Link to this comment

  2. October 22, 2009 at 12:03 pm ET  -   Anna Watkins

    My children are older than most of their classmates, and will be 15 (old enough for a learners permit) while still in middle school. I’ve already begun to talk about driving, the skills required, and everything you have to pay attention to, and try to model all the right behaviours.

    As terrifying as the thought is, and as tempting as it is to delay the permit (8th graders driving!!!), I plan to allow each to get the permit as soon as they are eligible, but to delay getting their licenses until about the time when their classmates will be getting theirs (sometime in 10th grade). My hope is that the extra 12-18 months of permit time will give each of my kids more practice time on the road with me (and more maturity) before letting them loose on the world.

    Link to this comment

    • AUTHOR COMMENT November 6, 2009 at 3:59 pm ET  -   Louise Galaska, MPA

      Ms. Watkins, thank you for your comment. As you know, parents play such an important role in preparing their children to be safe drivers. Talking to your children about the importance of safe driving and serving as a positive role model while driving—as you are already doing—can help to keep them safe once they do get on the road. Thank you.

      Link to this comment

  3. October 22, 2009 at 12:40 pm ET  -   Veda Dianne Debty

    My precious daughter, Rebecca, was killed in a terrible truck wreck on a beautiful, sunny day on August 3, 2000. She was 17 years old and was a passenger. She died almost instantly from head trauma after the truck went air-born, hit a tree and flipped. The top of the truck crushed her skull. She died underneath the truck with her seatbelt on. The driver, Matt, also 17 years old walked away unharmed. Matt used his vehicle to make big impressions with the girls. He showed off all the time. He just didn’t realize that he would kill a good friend doing so. What really hurts is that we were constantly lecturing Rebecca about driving safely. She was a good, conscientous driver who made the mistake of trusting a friend to ride with. This mistake cost her life. In NC by law, he was charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle. He was slapped on the wrist and we buried our daughter.

    Link to this comment

    • AUTHOR COMMENT November 6, 2009 at 3:59 pm ET  -   Louise Galaska, MPA

      Ms. Debty, please accept my condolences on the loss of your beloved daughter, Rebecca. Thank you for your courage in sharing your loss with the rest of us in the hope that it will help keep other sons and daughters safe.

      Link to this comment

  4. October 25, 2009 at 7:51 am ET  -   Denise Drummond

    This has been helpful, as I have a son that will be 16 in June 2010. I had been looking forward to the help it will offer – running errands, having his own transportation with his and his sister’s activities. I will have to strike a balance between his safety and meeting my expectations. The teen years have its unique challenges, I will continue to seek resources that will guide us all.

    Link to this comment

    • AUTHOR COMMENT November 6, 2009 at 4:00 pm ET  -   Louise Galaska, MPA

      Ms. Drummond, thank you very much for your comment and for your interest in safe teen driving. There are proven steps that you can take, including extending your teen’s supervised driving period, limiting nighttime driving and the number of teen passengers in the car, and enforcing the rules with a parent-teen contract, that will help your son be a safer driver. You may also find the following resource from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to be helpful: http://www.underyourinfluence.org. Thank you.

      Link to this comment

  5. October 26, 2009 at 1:40 pm ET  -   Nita Hestevold

    Thank you so much for including the Louise & Nick Driving Contract. I reseach teen driving supported by a CDC grant and am fimiliar from our work with importance of Teen Driving Contracts. Yet the only place I have seen these are either a version by a reseacher or one distributed by an insurence company. Having a Teen Driving Contracted that has the backing of the CDC seems so important to me. My daughter turns 16 in March and will be anxious to get her lincense. I live in Alabama with a very weak graduated lincensing law. This is the contract I will use with my daughter.
    Thanks so much.
    Nita Hestevold
    Research Associate
    University of Alabama

    Link to this comment

    • AUTHOR COMMENT November 6, 2009 at 4:00 pm ET  -   Louise Galaska, MPA

      Ms. Hestevold, thank you very much for your comment. It is good to hear that you have made safe teen driving a priority for your family, and I am so pleased that the parent-teen contract will be of use to you and your daughter. Thank you.

      Link to this comment

  6. October 31, 2009 at 9:53 am ET  -   June Krise

    Is drivers education still funded at the public schools? or can a video be obtained or or you tube video that teens might catch on to and start passing around.

    Link to this comment

    • AUTHOR COMMENT November 6, 2009 at 4:01 pm ET  -   Louise Galaska, MPA

      Ms. Krise, thank you for your comment. The drivers education options that are available varies by community; some schools do still provide drivers education, though fewer than before. There are also a number of private businesses that provide drivers education services. But the good news is that it is parents who really play a key role in the learning-to-drive process. Parents can take a number of steps—such as extending a teen’s supervised driving period, limiting nighttime driving and the number of teen passengers in the car, and enforcing the rules with a parent-teen contract—which can help keep teens safe on the road. Thank you.

      Link to this comment

  7. November 2, 2009 at 12:57 pm ET  -   Nancy Miller

    I believe a seatbelt device,a breathilizer device and a speed device should all be mandatory when teenagers secure a drivers license. The car would not start without the seatbelt fastened – the car would not start without the driver activating the breathilizer,especially in the evenings and on the weekends,the car would not be able to go over 60 mph at any time. These devices could be tied to state law or being able to get affordable car insurance. I think if we are serious about saving lives we need to leave little to chance. We need to trust our children but even the most responsible teenagers make mistakes – driving after drinking or getting in the car with someone that has –it only takes one time. My experience has been parents stick their head in the sand – do not want to face the truth – my child is smarter than that -better than that – none are – trust me. Parents have said to me “we are having a 16th birthday party for my son and we are going to collect all the keys just in case someone sneaks in alcohol”. Well first of all someone almost always sneaks alcohol into the party and they almost always have additional keys . I figured this one out when I had to jump thru the drivers side of a moving vehicle to get to the ignition of a car leaving my home at midnight. Last party for me. When my teenagers were late coming home I would call other parents – waking most up -most were scarily unconcerned – This is war and I believe we should use every weapon in the arsonal and leave nothing on the table. It would be helpful if parents were more realistic and get together and always have someone on call for the kids to call in case they need help. Teenagers need to know they can call a pre-appointed person and have the confidence the information would only be shared on a need to know basis. Kids need help in many ways and at times its not about drinking. Maybe they have suffered a broken relationship – that is devestating at any age and having someone to call no matter what the situation can build trust with teens. Goodness I could go on and on – As you might have figured out I have had alot of experience with teenagers and some have been heartbreaking. Also funny how if they pay or help pay for their car and insurance they seem to take much better care with the car. Also I say no matter what ALL teenagers should be driving clunkers – How about a CLUNKERS FOR TEENAGERS STIMULAS PLAN- I’m not kidding!!-Our young people are our most precious commodity and we are sitting around allowing them to die – this is a drastic situation and it calls for drastic measures. Thank you for highlighting this crisis in America. I don’t think the American public is educated regarding this subject. I believe out goverment needs to pay for TV/Radio time to make sure every American is aware of the leading cause of teenage deaths. My teens attended one of the top ten high schools in the nation. The reason I make this point is because there are many that feel the academically inclined are less likely to drink and drive. I don’t have the statistics but I doubt that is the case. No teenager is safe until we can pass legislation that has teeth. The GDL is a start —only a start!!

    Link to this comment

    • AUTHOR COMMENT November 6, 2009 at 4:01 pm ET  -   Louise Galaska, MPA

      Ms. Miller, thank you very much for your comment and your interest in this important issue. Parents play a key role in keeping teens safe on the road, and proven steps—such as extending your teen’s supervised driving period, limiting nighttime driving and the number of teen passengers in the car, and enforcing the rules with a parent-teen contract—can truly help. Thank you.

      Link to this comment

  8. November 15, 2009 at 6:00 pm ET  -   Maggie Stork

    I am 21 years old and remember receiving my drivers license like it was only yesterday. I did not have a cell phone when I got my license at 16, so the temptation was never there for me to text, or talk on the phone while driving. Even without the distractions of a cell phone or any of the other gadgets that many teens are driving with today, I made a few “new-driver” errors. There were small incidents that could have been avoided if I was just a bit more experienced in my driving.

    I loved the freedom I gained by earning my drivers license with no limits on the number of passengers, or what time of day I could drive; but I must admit that a graduated licensing program might have worked in my benefit. If I had restrictions placed on my driving I probably would not have made the same mistakes, and my parents would have been less worried about my driving.

    Luckily, the mistakes I made at 16 were not fatal, but for several kids in my high school, the mistakes they made as new drivers were. It is absolutely devastating when one of your peers loses their life because of something that could have been avoided. Driving is serious, and I know that when I was a teen I did not take it as seriously as I do now. Hopefully more states will enact graduated driver licensing programs, and raise teen awareness about staying safe on the road.

    Link to this comment

    • AUTHOR COMMENT November 18, 2009 at 3:04 pm ET  -   Louise Galaska, MPA

      Ms. Stork,

      Thank you for sharing your experiences of learning to drive without the benefit of a graduated driver licensing (GDL) system. I’m very sorry to hear that students at your high school were involved in fatal crashes as new drivers, and appreciate your resulting passion in teen driver safety. As you pointed out, GDL systems can help new teen drivers stay safer behind the wheel, and the most comprehensive systems are proven to reduce crash-related injuries and deaths. Though not every state has a comprehensive GDL system in place, the good news is that parents can take a number of steps—such as extending a teen’s supervised driving period, limiting nighttime driving and the number of teen passengers in the car, and enforcing the rules with a parent-teen contract—which can help keep their teen safe on the road.

      Link to this comment

  9. February 26, 2010 at 5:14 pm ET  -   Sharon Robinson

    My daughter is 19 yrs old and she received her license at 17 yrs of age. She had her learners permit for two years. We drove with her quite often and she went by herself on many occasions also. I am still not comfortable totally with her driving because she never had her own car (which is a good thing in a way) so didn’t gain as much experience as some of her friends. She’s in college now and near Marta. I told her that before I purchase a car, I would need to STILL be a passenger in the car with her for a little while longer so that I can feel a bit more confident. Will I ever be totally comfortable? Who knows. I tell her to pray before she leaves and she knows not to be distracted by the phone or radio. Word of advice; teach them about your specific car. They need to know how to use the windshield wipers, gas tank, lights and functions of the car that they are driving. My daughter drove in the “almost” dark without lights a short distance because she didn’t want to call and ask me how to turn them on. That wasn’t smart. She knows better now. Have those conversations also – tell them to use common sense. Her classmate died at 16 yrs of age because she was driving three friends around and they hit a tree. Another had a brain injury, another a spinal injury and the 4th had no memory of the accident. There should never be a car full of people with an inexperienced driver. Make sure that you know who your children are getting in the car with.

    Link to this comment

  10. March 3, 2010 at 12:09 pm ET  -   directorsview

    Ms. Robinson,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences regarding how you have helped your daughter to stay safe on the road. Parents can play an important role in their teen driver’s safety, and extending your daughter’s supervised driving period – as you have done – can really help.

    Ann Dellinger, PhD
    Motor Vehicle Team Lead, Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention
    National Center for Injury Prevention and Control
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    Link to this comment

  11. July 23, 2010 at 9:23 pm ET  -   Travis

    @Louise – That is a very well laid out post. I love the three little words. I’ve sent a link to this article on our twitter account.

    We also have a teen driving contract available on our site for your readers should they be interested.

    Our company makes an automotive information system that helps parents monitor teen driver for things like speed, throttle position, hard breaking/starting, etc and graphs it so parents can review their performance with their child.

    We passionately believe that parents are the key to helping teens learn to this life long skill. Patience and practice are required from both the parents and the teen. Take the time to work with them and teach them the ways of the road.

    You can visit our website for more tips for new drivers and their parents.

    Thanks!

    Travis Funkhouser, COO
    CarCheckup.com

    Link to this comment

  12. August 2, 2010 at 9:57 pm ET  -   Sharline Dominguez

    As a teen (I am 16 years old), I found this article to be extremely interesting because I have learned how irresponsible teenagers can be behind the wheel. A month ago, I also lost my cousin who was a back seat passenger in a high-speed car accident, so I have taken the initiative to conduct a youth-run project titled Teens Driving for a Better Tomorrow to help raise awareness about the precautions that should be taken into account when driving. I assure you that not only is it important for parents to develop a relationship with their child through driving contracts like the one mentioned above, but it is also a proven fact that teens listen to one another!

    Link to this comment

    • August 6, 2010 at 7:16 am ET  -   directorsview

      I am very sorry to hear of the loss of your cousin. I commend you for working to address this important issue teen-to-teen, and wish you the very best in your efforts to keep teens safe behind the wheel.

      Link to this comment

  13. August 21, 2010 at 10:04 pm ET  -   Unlocked Blackberry

    Is their a blackberry firendly version of this? That would be really helpful to people.

    Link to this comment

  14. August 26, 2010 at 11:38 am ET  -   Liz

    I’m a PRIDE Instructor here in the state of Georgia. PRIDE stands for Parents Reducing Injuries and Driver Errors. The PRIDE class itself is only two hours long. The teen MUST attend WITH a parent. We teach the parents about the licensing laws, about becoming a better driving coach and how they need to let their teen practice, practice and practice. We separate the teens from their parents for a good part of the class so that the teens will be more open with us. The teens learn about the licensing laws, the consequences for bad driving decisions, how their friends’ behavior and decisions can negatively influence them and we show them many videos from Europe (the insurance institutes over there are not SHY about what they show on TV).

    Here’s my complaint. Even though the class is totally free only a handful of jurisdictions are actually running the program each year. The class is sponsored and funded by the University Of Georgia’s extension office called the Georgia Traffic Injury Prevention Institute. The class is almost TOTALLY free… the materials are free, the certification class for instructors is free, and the advertising they do on their website announcing the classes throughout the state is free. The only thing local jurisdictions (police departments, fire departments, etc.) have to pay for is their people’s time. Two instructors are needed for each class and many departments say they can’t spare two personnel for two hours to run the class. What they don’t seem to realize is that there are quite a few “parent volunteers” who used their own time to be certified and who are willing to travel around to the various police departments and assist with the class so they’d only have to free up ONE instructor for the two hours. It’s a total WIN-WIN-WIN situation. Parents get advice on being a driving coach = WIN! Teen gets valuable information about being a safe driver and consequences when they’re not being safe = WIN! The jurisdiction teaching the class makes less of the dreaded middle-of-the-night visits to a dead teen’s home = WIN!

    Do you know if the CDC is aware of this program and if they’re involved in any way? Anyone can check out http://www.ridesafegeorgia.org to learn more about becoming an instructor, taking a class, etc. Two hours of a parents’ and teens’ time is NOTHING in the grand scehme of things!

    Link to this comment

    • August 27, 2010 at 12:39 pm ET  -   directorsview

      Thank you for your comment. At CDC’s Injury Center, while we are not familiar with this program, we do encourage parents and teens to take part in any program that promotes safety, recognizes that important role of parents in the learning to drive process, and provides information to parents and teens about the risks as well as the laws on teen driving.

      Link to this comment

  15. September 15, 2010 at 2:42 pm ET  -   Morgan Paige

    This is a great way to spread awareness of the dangers of distracted driving! Here is a link to a website that expands on promoting safety concerning teen drivers. It is filled with webisodes, PSAs, and other useful information concerning the subject! http://impactteendrivers.org/

    Link to this comment

  16. January 19, 2011 at 8:44 pm ET  -   Anne Marie Hayes

    Amen. Those 3 words rank right up there with, “I love you.”
    Driving is dangerous. The statistics are horrific! But most crashes involve driver error so we can change this! Involved, knowledgeable parents can reduce the chances their teens will be involved in a crash by coaching, supporting and monitoring them.
    Thanks for a great article,
    Anne Marie

    Link to this comment

  17. June 13, 2011 at 11:40 am ET  -   Natalie Fuller

    Three precious words in a parents ears? How about just one precious word from the parent’s lips: No.

    Don’t give your neurologically underdeveloped teen a license. Saving 175 of 3000 kids killed each year through three-stage GDL practices is totally inadequate. Eliminating two years of unsupervised teen driving seems likely to reduce the death toll among 16-19 year olds by nearly half.

    Link to this comment

    • July 21, 2011 at 9:34 am ET  -   directorsview

      Thank you for your comment. While rules about the age at which teens may receive their license and other limits are set by states, parents are also critically important when it comes to setting and enforcing rules for their teens. This includes deciding when it’s right for your teen to be able to take the car keys. Check out a short video that helps parents know the risks for teens on the road and how to set their own rules: http://www.cdc.gov/ParentsAreTheKey/socialmedia/video-cdctv.html

      Link to this comment

  18. November 8, 2011 at 8:59 am ET  -   Grand Rounds, Vol. 8, No. 7: Myth Buster Edition! - Better Health

    [...] Galaska at the CDC Injury Center: Director’s View Blog offers some sobering statistics about teen driving, both regarding how dangerous driving can be (one in three teen deaths is caused [...]

    Link to this comment

  19. February 13, 2012 at 6:34 am ET  -   back

    The minute i see you’ve got a new post i usually rush over here, even though i haven’t posted a comment to say thanks til now, i adore your posts. Thanks!

    Link to this comment

  20. March 13, 2012 at 2:37 pm ET  -   Kim McHugh

    While searching for information to bring with me to a meeting, I found this blog. My daughter was killed in a speed-related accident on 11/23/07. She was 16 years old. Her friend was killed also and the backseat passenger was hurt badly. He is now 20 and is still having surgeries.

    I speak with a group in the Albany, NY area about my daughter’s accident and the hazards of speeding, especially with teens. Thank you for all the helpful information.

    Link to this comment

  21. June 19, 2012 at 12:22 am ET  -   Miquel Estala

    It’s perfect time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I want to suggest you few interesting things or suggestions. Perhaps you can write next articles referring to this article. I desire to read even more things about it!

    Link to this comment

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