This column first appeared in the June 29 edition of the Lexington Herald-Leader.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 2, 2014) -- The Fourth of July is a time for fireworks, festivals and fun - but the holiday also marks the most fatal day of the year for teen drivers. The National Safety Council identifies the 100-day period between Memorial Day and Labor Day as the most deadly time of year for teen drivers. Nearly 1,000 fatalities occurred on the roadways during this time period in 2012, and more than half of those killed were teens.
Car crashes are the leading cause of death for all teens, and Kentucky has one of the nation's highest rates of teen crashes. Teens constitute 6 percent of Kentucky drivers but are involved in more than 20 percent of traffic crashes and 18 percent of fatal crashes. Kentucky's Graduated Drivers Licensing (GDL) law helps make sure a new driver teen comes home safe and alive. But parents and guardians are the most important link making sure this happens.
1. There is no substitute for driving experience. Inexperience is a major crash risk for all teens, even responsible drivers. Long before a teen drives, they need adult role models who don't speed, wear seatbelts and anticipate moves of other cars. A new driver with a permit should spend at least 50 hours driving with an adult in the passenger's seat in a variety of conditions - on country roads and major highways, in clear and stormy weather, in rain and snow, in daytime and in darkness.
2. Wear your seat belt. More than half of teens killed in car crashes were not wearing theirs.
3. No teen passengers for new drivers. Teens who carry a single teen passenger are 44 percent more likely to be involved in a crash, and the risk increases exponentially for every extra passenger added. Passengers can be as distracting as electronics. Kentucky legally permits family passengers, but being a family member doesn’t reduce the risk.
4. Limit night driving. Crash risk increases after 9 p.m.
5. Ban distractions while driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 18 percent of fatal crashes were caused by driver distraction in 2010. Prohibit cellphone use (for calling or texting) while a teen is driving.
6. No tired or hurried driving. Today, teens are busy with school, sports, jobs and social activities. Discourage driving when teens are rushed or running late. Offer them a ride.
6. Set teens up for success. If you give your teen driver an old clunker, be sure the tires, wipers, brakes and headlights are in good condition. It's not realistic to give teens a fast sports car and expect them not to use its speed. Less speedy cars are safer, especially on Kentucky's unforgiving rural roads.
Dr. Susan Pollack is the director of pediatric and adolescent injury prevention at the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center and a pediatrician at Kentucky Children's Hospital.