One of the most difficult things about working in the emergency department was making a phone call. Not just any phone call, but a call at midnight, or 2 a.m., a call to a parent who might be waiting for his teenager to return home from an evening out with friends. A call that would change a family forever. A call that no one ever wants to make. A call to say “I am calling about your son. He has been in a car crash and is in the emergency department. Can you come to the hospital? . . . Is there someone who can come with you?” It is the call that parents dread, and that we dreaded making. And, it is a call that doesn’t have to happen.
In 2010, more than 2,200 families of teens ages 16-19 received a phone call, or were visited by police officers bearing tragic news. On average, in 2010, 7 teens ages 16-19 died each day from injuries due to motor vehicle crashes; 48 teens per day were hospitalized and 770 teens per day were treated and released from emergency departments for injuries due to motor vehicle crashes. Parents can take action to reduce their chances of being awakened by the dreaded phone call.
You can keep your teen safe on the road using these 5 actions:
1. Give your teen rules and safe ways to practice their driving skills.
Teens do learn by watching other drivers and by studying for their permit, but experience is the best teacher. Crash risk is particularly high for teens during the first months of licensure. Graduated drivers licensing (GDL) laws are designed to give teens more responsibility only as they gain more experience. Learn about the GDL law in your state, and have your teen follow it.
2. Set rules for the road with a parent-teen driving agreement.
The most comprehensive GDL programs can reduce fatal crashes by roughly 20% to 40% among 16-year-old drivers. Your state’s GDL law will get you and your teen started, but you can fill in any gaps by creating a formal driving agreement with your teen. At a minimum, the agreement should include the following:
- Never drink and drive
- Never get in a car with a driver who has been drinking
- Wear a seat belt on every trip
- Limit nighttime driving
- Limit the number of teen passengers
- Never use a cell phone or text while driving
- Obey speed limits
3. Make sure your teen has a safe way to get home.
In 2011, almost a million high school teens drank alcohol and then got behind the wheel. And 1 in 5 teen drivers who were involved in fatal crashes in 2010 had been drinking. One way to keep your teen safe is to tell them that they can call you for a safe ride home.
4. Model safe driving.
Our children learn from us – and that includes driving. Long before they are old enough to drive, children watch their parents to learn what is acceptable to do while driving. Parents can lead by example, by wearing their seat belts, obeying speed limits, not drinking and driving, and not using a cell phone or texting while driving.
5. Keep learning about how to keep your teen safe on the road.
CDC’s Injury Center studies motor vehicle crashes to find the best ways to prevent them. We put this science into action in many ways – one is by sharing what we learn.
This week, CDC is hosting a Facebook Chat on the Parents Are the Key Facebook page. You can join this chat October 19 from 10:00-11:00am ET to discuss ways parents can encourage safe driving. Topics that will be discussed include beginning the safe driving conversation with your teen, what works to prevent teen driving crashes, and what steps you can take to keep your teen safe.