Hylton I Lightman, MD, DCH (SA), FAAP

My 17 year old is driving.  She’s our 5th driver and there are two more Lightman’s not so far behind her who no doubt will be rushing to get their learner permits as soon as they turn 16 years old.  The statistics on drivers on this category are terrorizing.  What wisdom as a pediatrician and a father may I impart on this topic?

We know that teenagers are more at risk on the road because they tend to underestimate dangerous situations, including the braking distance between their car and the one ahead.  The good news:  There are proven strategies to improve the driving of this age cohort on the road.

Make sure your young driver is aware of the leading causes of car crashes on the road.   

The following are the causes along with what a parent can do to provide an antidote.  Have a discussion with your teen.

  1. Driver Inexperience

Crash risk is highest in the first year a teen has his license.  Parents should provide at least 30-50 hours of supervised driving over at least 6 months.  Practice should take place over a variety of roads, at different times of day, and in varied weather and traffic conditions.  My wife reminisces that her late father taught her how to drive on the narrow roads in the cemetery, saying that at least no one would be harmed there.  In addition, emphasize the importance of continually scanning for potential hazards including other vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

  1. Driving with Teen Passengers

The crash risk goes up when teens drive with other teen passengers in the car.  As parents, you can limit the number of teen passengers your child can have in the car while driving to 0 or 1, definitely no more than 2.  Keep this rule in place for at least the first 6 months of driving.

  1. Night-Time Driving

For all ages, fatal crashes are more likely at night.  For teens, this is especially true.  Make sure your teen is off the road no later than 10 pm for at least the first 6 months of driving.  Practice nighttime driving with your teen when you think they are ready.  I know:  You the parent are not ready. Review safety techniques, including turning on headlights (an important step also during early morning driving) so you can see and be seen.

  1. Not Using Seatbelts

The best way to lessen harm if there is a car crash, G-d forbid, is for the driver and all passengers to be buckled up.  It’s that simple.  You must require your teen to wear a safety belt every time he gets into the car.  This is non-negotiable.  This simple step can reduce your teen’s risk of dying or being badly injured in a crash by about half.  Start on day one for a lifesaving habit.

  1. Distracted Driving

Distractions increase your teen’s risk of being in a car crash.  There are 3 main types of distraction:  Visual or taking your eyes off the road; Manual or taking your hands off the wheel; and Cognitive or taking your mind off driving.  These activities include but are not limited to texting while driving, talking on a cell phone, eating while driving, using a navigation system, etc.  Two interesting facts:  First, texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three types of distraction.  Second, sending or reading a text message takes your eyes off the road for about 5 seconds, long enough to cover a football field while driving at 55 mph.

Parents:  You MUST role model good behavior here.  Also, you MUST not allow activities that may take your teen’s attention away from driving, such as talking on a cell phone, texting, eating, or playing with the radio.

Educate yourselves and your teens about distracted driving by reading the shocking statistics posted National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA).

  1. Drowsy Driving

Again, this is an obvious one but must be said.  Teens tend to underestimate whether they are drowsy and to what extent when behind the wheel of a car.  Generally, they are at greatest risk for this early mornings and evenings.  Parents should know their child’s schedule so they can help them to navigate when NOT to be driving.  Perhaps having the keys to the car may be a bribe to get teens to sleep earlier at night.  I’d appreciate your feedback on this one.

  1. Reckless Driving

Research shows that teens lack the experience, judgment, and maturity to assess risky situations.  Make sure your teen follows the speed limit.  If driving conditions necessitate lowering that limit, then make sure your teen adjusts and drives accordingly.  Review the appropriate braking distance with your teen and that he should maintain enough space behind the vehicle ahead to avoid a crash in case of a sudden stop.  And please obey the speed limit.

  1. Impaired Driving

Even one drink can impair a teen’s (or any person’s) driving.  Thank G-d, the statistics on teens and drinking has decreased by nearly 54% since 1991.  Let’s aim for 100%.  Again, Parents, here’s your opportunity to role model excellent behavior.  Please don’t drink and drive.  Be sure to impart that message to your children.


Some parents may think about downloading the Parent-Teen Driving Agreement

developed by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics. It’s a good jumping off point for discussing this topic with your teens.

A comment on our own neighborhood, Far Rockaway and the Five Towns:

“The community has grown exponentially in recent years and it continues to grow.  Yet nothing has changed with the infrastructure and we still have the same number of streets with no adjustments in the traffic patterns.  Now, we are more people, more cars and more traffic.  Sometimes, patience is tested.  Please stay calm.  Let’s stop the U-turns on Central Avenue.  They don’t help the situation and they endanger us all.  Also, please exercise more thought and caution when opening your car doors on Central Avenue.  Remember, drivers have to pass.”

And as always, daven


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