This is a post I’ve been meaning to write, but not now and definitely not due to personal experience. My 18-year old nephew Ryan was just killed in an auto accident. It was a typical winter day in Ohio, cold, plenty of snow and patches of ice dotting the road. From what I gather, the vehicle hit a patch of ice and the driver lost control. The car rolled and hit a tree, on the passenger side. You guessed it; my nephew was sitting in the passenger seat and was killed instantly.
We’ve seen many teen drivers pass through our office over the years. In fact, educating them about the responsibilities of driving and the basics of auto insurance is a passion of ours. We joke about putting them under “the big light”, but we are serious when we have this discussion. We give them literature to take as well and sincerely hope that they “hear” us. We like to think that talking to these kids actually makes a difference. So far it seems to have worked.
One of our companies, Motorists Mutual, actually has a youthful driver questionnaire that the student has to complete in the agent’s presence. They have also just recently introduced a comprehensive Youthful Driver Program aimed at parents. I think one of the neatest tools is the Parent-Teen Driving Contract. Check out their program here.
Although I don’t yet know all the contributing factors of my nephew’s accident, I do know what factors contribute to accidents involving teenagers. I have pulled this information from excellent sources such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (http://www.nhtsa.gov/) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (http://www.iihs.org/). They have entire sections devoted to teen drivers, including printed material, video, and research data. Here are the links to those specific pages- NHTSA- Teen Drivers and IIHS- Teenagers. I suggest all parents review their information.
#1 Factor- Plain old driver error. Yes, adults make mistakes while driving, but teen driver mistakes are different. Crash rates for young drivers are high largely because of their immaturity combined with driving inexperience. The immaturity is apparent in young drivers’ risky driving practices such as speeding, tailgating, failure to wear seatbelts and not driving appropriately for the road conditions. They often take unnecessary risks due to a combination of poor decision making and an illusion of invulnerability. At the same time, teenagers’ lack of experience behind the wheel makes it difficult for them to recognize and respond to hazards.
Although I don’t believe that the driver of the vehicle was going over the speed limit, I do believe he was going too fast for the icy road conditions. As to buckling up, there is no excuse. In Ohio, it’s the law for front seat occupants. The passengers in the rear seat were not wearing their seatbelts and were subsequently ejected. They are currently in critical condition. I’m not always very good about wearing a seatbelt when in the rear seat, but I can guarantee I will be now. This is too simple a task to not do and yes, it does save your life.
#2 Factor- Distracted driving. Yes, our digital age is wonderful, but if you’ve only been driving a few weeks, how can you pay attention to the road, and change the CD, and talk on your cell phone or send a text message? Simple- you can’t, so don’t even try. If you aren’t paying attention to your driving, then you’re just asking for trouble. I don’t advocate that adults try to manage all these things at once, but the fact stands: younger drivers are simply less experienced at multitasking while driving and are therefore more easily distracted than their older counterparts. So, teens need to pay attention to their driving. Leave the other things alone. PERIOD.
A corollary to distracted driving is the presence of other teen passengers. It’s very difficult to pay attention to your driving when you have other people causing a commotion in the vehicle. The vehicle my nephew was in had 5 teenagers. That is simply too many. Limiting the number of passengers in the car eliminates unwanted distractions. End of discussion. Make this a rule in your house NOW.
Yes, I realize that to teenagers (who are 10 feet tall and bulletproof by the way), my suggestions seem to take the “fun” out of driving. They sound “old” and boring. My response to that? GET OVER YOURSELF. If you want to be treated like a grown-up, then act like one. Take responsibility for your actions. Drive carefully so as to protect yourself and your passengers. We adults want to see you graduate and live a long and meaningful life. Yes, it CAN happen to you. It just did, to one of your friends.
We bury my nephew tomorrow. He was hoping to graduate and make a better life for himself. He was excited about the future. That’s what gets me the most: the sadness of lost opportunity and potential, of him not even getting a chance.
So, to parents, I say: be firm, be specific and be the adult. It’s your job to protect your children by setting rules and enforcing them. So do it. And to teenagers, I say: take your responsibilities seriously. Your actions can have serious consequences, consequences that you can’t even imagine.
Hug your children, tell them you love them. Never miss an opportunity to do so. It’s always someone else’s child, except when it’s yours. Godspeed Ryan.