LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 21, 2012) - The following column appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Sunday, August 19.
By Dr. Ryan A. Stanton
Summer is ending, and we are back to the time of year when teenagers return to school and young drivers hit the road to high school and colleges nationwide.
Driving is one of the most dangerous activities we undertake in our daily lives, but for a population that in their own mind is invincible, teenage drivers are at increased risk of fatal car accidents.
Whether because of inexperience, distractions, peer pressure or a need for speed, our youngest drivers are at risk every time they turn the key.
The AAA Safety Foundation recently released a study showing the degree of risk when teen drivers get behind the wheel. The study found that a teen driver with one passenger younger than 21 increases the risk of death by 44 percent. A driver with two passengers doubles the risk, and three or more passengers younger than 21 quadruples the risk of a fatal accident. On the other hand, having at least one passenger older than 35 decreases the risk of a fatal accident by 62 percent.
Here are some simple steps parents and other adults can take to keep teen drivers safe:
• Limit passengers in the car at all times. Unless there are adults in the car, the number of passengers should be limited to one.
• Limit distractions. My first car accident was while paying more attention to the car radio than the Jeep stopped in front of me. Teen drivers must understand that if the car is moving, eyes need to be on the road. No cellphones, talking, radios, etc. while behind the wheel. This is good advice for adults too.
• Always, always, always wear seat belts. This starts young. Children should never know anything else other than that getting in the car means putting on a seat belt. There should be no flexibility on this rule. If your teen wants to drive, they and everyone in the car will wear a seat belt.
• Practice, practice, practice. We practice all activities in which we want to excel. From sports to school and everything in between, practice is the key to success. Whether it is driver’s education or weekend afternoons in a local parking lot, practice and experience are key to keeping young drivers safe.
• Take it slow. Teens should be eased into the world of American drivers. Start with easy trips and slowly move up to busier roads and night driving.
Our children are our greatest gift, so we all should take every step possible to keep them safe in everything they do. Teaching your teen to be a responsible driver is one such step — a step that can make a difference between life and death.
For more safe driving tips, go to AAA’s Web site at AAA.com .
Dr. Ryan Stanton is medical director for UK HealthCare’s Good Samaritan Emergency Department.