Five Worst Teen Driving Mistakes: Part One
December 11, 2008
Most parents live in dread of the day their teens get driver’s licenses and get behind the wheel on their own. Their concerns are well-founded, since teen drivers have the highest death rates in car crashes of any age group. Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death among Americans aged 15-20. But parents can help their teens be a safer driver even after they are licensed, particularly by paying attention to common risk factors. In this five-part series, we’ll discuss the five worst teen driving mistakes:
- They don’t wear safety belts.
- They drink and drive.
- They panic/overcorrect in emergency situations.
- They drive too fast for conditions.
- They ride with other teens.
In this, part one of the series, we’ll emphasize the importance of wearing safety belts. First, you’ll need to set the right example for your children by wearing your safety belt. “Do as I stay, not as I do,” doesn’t work with teens, particularly when they’re out of your sight and you can’t personally enforce the rule.
Also, make sure you never pull out of your driveway or a parking space until everyone in the vehicle is wearing a seat belt. Many high school students fail to use their safety belts even when riding with adults who are buckled up. An observational survey conducted at 12 high schools found that 46 percent of high school students were not wearing their safety belts when riding with adult drivers. About half of the unbelted students were riding with adults who were belted. If your teens are used to wearing safety belts as passengers, they’ll be comfortable wearing them as drivers.
Next, educate your teen about the benefits of wearing safety belts. Here’s some supportive information:
- Research has found that lap/shoulder safety belts, when used, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent. For light truck occupants, safety belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by 60 percent and moderate-to-critical injury by 65 percent.
- Ejection from the vehicle is one of the most injurious events that can happen to a person in a crash. In fatal crashes in 2005, 75% of passenger car occupants who were totally ejected from the vehicle were killed. Safety belts are effective in preventing total ejections. Only 1% of the occupants reported to have been using restraints were totally ejected, compared with 30% of the unrestrained occupants.
- Safety belts should always be worn, even when riding in vehicles equipped with air bags. Air bags are designed to work with safety belts, not alone. Air bags, when not used with safety belts, have a fatality-reducing effectiveness rate of only 12 percent.
Third, educate your teen about the safety belt laws in your state. Be sure to review the graduated licensing laws – safety belt enforcement may differ from that of fully licensed drivers.
Statistical source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Can I Get a DUI from My Cough Medicine?
December 9, 2008
Many first-time drivers know that Driving Under the Influence (DUI) of alcohol is extremely dangerous. But they may not realize that the cold medicine they take could cause a level of impairment similar to that of drinking alcohol and in many states, could even result in arrest and conviction of DUI. Though over-the-counter drugs are legal, they are not always harmless.
Many teenagers will take over-the-counter drugs to stop a headache or relieve cold symptoms. Some take larger amounts of over-the-counter drugs to get high and feel good. Of course, this is particularly risky because taking any drug in large quantities results in a higher level of impairment, but it is important to know that even the recommended dosage of an over-the-counter drug can reduce your driving skills. Your coordination, decision-making, and reaction time can be affected.
Over-the-counter medications are required to have printed warnings about side effects, including driving risks. The bad news is, many people don’t read the warning or they don’t believe it is meant for them. If you don’t understand these warnings, ask a pharmacist for help. Remember that many over-the-counter drugs, such as those that provide multi-symptom cold relief, contain several types of drugs in one pill. Select a medication that treats only the symptoms from which you actually suffer.
Here is a partial list of legal, over-the-counter drugs that could impair your ability to drive.
- Allergy medicines/Antihistamines
- Cough syrups
- Motion sickness medication
- Ulcer medication
- Alcohol-containing medicines
- Caffeine-containing medicines
For example, antihistamines slow down reaction time, impair coordination, and can make you extremely sleepy – so sleepy you can’t even hold your head up. Decongestants, which may be combined with antihistamines in multi-symptom cold medicines, can cause anxiety and dizziness. And though many people who take caffeine-containing medications do so to stay awake, the effects of these drugs don’t last long and can end abruptly, leaving you even more tired than before you took the drug. Caffeine is also found in many headache relievers – check the ingredients list of every medicine you take so you’ll be aware of what you’re taking and can consider the effects before you get behind the wheel.
Some over-the-counter drugs (such as cough medicine, which contains alcohol) may temporarily make you feel more alert and confident when you’re driving. This is because your judgment is impaired, not because you’re a better driver than you were before you took the drug. Drugs can fool you into believing you’re in control of your driving when you are, in fact, impaired. Remember, you are responsible for making sure that you are unimpaired by any substance when you drive.
The effects of some over-the-counter drugs may not be apparent until an hour or two after you take them; never put yourself in the position of getting out on the road only to realize you are impaired. And not everyone reacts the same way to the same drug every time, so you could suffer unexpected side effects even if you’ve taken that particular drug in the past with no problems. Plan ahead. Ask a parent or friend to drive you if you need to go somewhere. Realize that if you’re sick enough to need medication, the symptoms of your illness may cause enough impairment that you shouldn’t drive, even if the medication itself doesn’t cause problems.
How to Get a Florida Learner’s Permit
December 5, 2008
So, you’re fifteen years old and ready to get your Florida Learner’s Permit. Congratulations! You are about to take the first step towards increased freedom and independence – but along with that comes increased responsibility. You’ll need to follow certain steps to get your learner’s permit. Here’s how to make the process as smooth as possible.
First, try to plan ahead. Many new drivers want to get their regular driver’s licenses as soon as they turn 16, but you need to have held a learner’s license for at least one year without any traffic convictions before you apply for your operator’s license.
When you go to the DMV, you’ll need appropriate identification. You’ll also need a certificate of completion for the Traffic Law and Substance Abuse Education course. Your parent or legal guardian will need to sign a consent form. Then you’ll be ready to take the written test!
The written test consists of 20 questions about road rules and 20 questions about road signs. You must answer 15 out of 20 questions correctly to pass each test. Then you’ll take a vision test and a hearing test right there at the DMV.
Once you earn your learner’s permit, you must comply with certain restrictions to keep it. You can never drive alone with a learner’s permit, no matter how old you are. You may only drive during daylight hours during the first three months and until 10 p.m. thereafter, always with a licensed driver who is at least 21 years old and occupies the front passenger seat.
You’ll need to follow all traffic laws carefully, both to develop safe driving habits and to avoid further restrictions. If you receive a moving traffic conviction while you have a learner’s license, the one-year period you are required to hold your learner’s license will be extended for one year from the date of the conviction or until you are 18 years old, whichever happens first.
If you receive six points on your driving record within a 12-month period, your driving privileges are automatically restricted to business purposes only for 12 months or until you are 18, whichever happens first. If you receive additional points during this restricted period, the restriction is extended 90 days for each additional point.
In addition, drivers under the age of 21 with a blood alcohol level of .02% or more will have their license immediately suspended for six months. This administrative action is for a first offense; a second offense will result in a one-year suspension. Refusal to submit to testing results in a suspension of twelve months for a first offense and eighteen months for a second offense.
If you are truant in your school attendance, your driving privilege will be suspended until you provide proof you have attended school for 30 consecutive days.
As you can see, once you get your learner’s permit, you’ll need to drive very safely to keep it and to earn your operator’s license. Taking this responsibility seriously will go a long way towards earning your place in society as a trustworthy adult.
Why You Should Take a Practice Permit Test Course
December 4, 2008
When teens are asked why they want their driver’s licenses, they often answer, “for freedom and independence.” But even getting a permit can be difficult, and if you don’t comply with certain restrictions on your permit and license, the freedom and independence you wanted so much and worked so hard for can quickly disappear. That’s why skimming the handbook and memorizing a few facts that are quickly forgotten as soon as you pass your written test is not a good use of your time. You should take a practice permit test course, and you can do so online, from the comfort of your home.
It is difficult to learn enough from the handbook to pass the written test at the driver’s license office. Simply reading the handbook is not enough. It is almost impossible for anyone, even your parents, to anticipate every type of question that might be asked on the test. The questions on the written test are typically pulled from a database of over 500 questions. Every test is random, so talking to your friends about what their tests were like won’t help you. And questions on the test are written with the assumption that you understand the entire handbook, so knowing just a few parts of the handbook well won’t be sufficient for you to achieve the minimum passing score on the test, which is usually 80%.
A practice permit test course helps you pass the written test because it replicates the experience of taking the test at the driver’s license office. Often, people are surprised when they take an online written test because they realize how little they remember even after reading the handbook. You don’t want that surprise when you’re already at the driver’s license office! Many states charge you a fee and make you wait several days to retake the test if you fail. That means you have to get your parent or guardian to make the trip all over again. With an online practice course, you can take tests as many times as it takes to feel totally comfortable with the material. Some courses even offer a guarantee that you will pass your test at the driver’s license office after passing the practice tests a certain number of times.
But an online DMV practice permit test course does more than help you pass the written test to get your learner’s permit. It helps you remember information that will help you keep your driver’s license and make you a safer driver. For example, many states now have graduated licensing programs that specify a variety of laws for new drivers, including curfew hours. If you don’t know those laws, you won’t follow them – and not following them could mean losing your permit or license. And of course, if you don’t know and follow the rules of the road, you could get tickets or worse, have a crash that results in property damage, injury or death. Even worse than losing your license would be causing harm to someone else, perhaps one of your friends, or losing your own life.
Hopefully, you’ll have your driver’s license for many years. Why not invest in it so you’ll have a smooth start?
Buying the Right Car for Your Teen Driver
December 1, 2008
Most parents instinctively know that buying a sports car for their teen drivers would probably be a big mistake. A high-horsepower, easily maneuverable car could be a deadly temptation for a teen, especially combined with the teen’s feeling of invincibility and risk-taking behavior. But if your child is pressuring you for a sporty convertible, here’s some ammunition for saying no.
The first years of driving are very risky, no matter what your teen is driving. Teen drivers have the highest death rates in car crashes of any age group. Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death among Americans aged 15-20.
And some cars are simply more deadly than others. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, small sports cars such as the Ford Mustang, the Chevrolet Corvette, and the Pontiac Sunfire have the highest death rates in crashes. “Vehicle choice does matter,” says J. Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Use it as another means to have a conversation with your teen.”
For more support, go online with your teen and check out insurance rates for their vehicle of choice. Explain that adding the teen to your policy will raise your rates no matter what she or he is driving. “Having a young driver added to your insurance will raise the rate 50 to 100 percent,” says Jeanne Salvatore, vice president of consumer affairs for the Insurance Information Institute. But the rates are much higher for vehicles considered high-risk.
Lastly, and perhaps most important, you are still the parent. Getting a driver’s license is an exciting rite of passage for your teen, but this new level of independence doesn’t end your primary job as a parent – to make the safest possible choices for your child.
Many parents, swinging to the other end of the pendulum, think an ancient clunker shaped like a tank would be safest for their teens. But experts demur, for two main reasons. First, the poor acceleration power of an older vehicle both makes it more difficult for teens to accelerate in some driving situations, such as lane changes and highway merges, and tempts them to simply drive faster to make up the difference in accelerating power. Second, older vehicles don’t have the benefit of modern safety features, such as airbags and electronic stability control.
So, with these two vehicle types out of the question, how do you select a safe car for your child?
First, consider size. A mid- or larger-size car could mean the difference between life and death in a crash. Though that’s true for drivers and passengers of all ages, it’s especially true for teens because of the high likelihood of driver error, which often leads to a crash.
Former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Jeffrey Runge, a former emergency room physician, recommends vehicles weighing at least 3,300 pounds for teen drivers. This is a good guideline for parents who are unsure of which vehicle class to shop in for their teen’s car.
Here again, some parents go to the extreme and choose an SUV for their teen drivers. But most safety experts think this a mistake. SUVs have a high center of gravity and thus are more likely to roll over than other vehicles. Drivers aged 16 to 20 are more than twice as likely to be involved in a rollover in an SUV than older drivers. Second, SUVs can be challenging to handle in an emergency, making them a better choice for those with more driving experience than teens. And SUVs carry more passengers, which make the vehicle more unstable and can be highly distracting for a teen driver.
A second important consideration in the choice of a car for your teen is crash protection. Although a vehicle with front driver and passenger airbags should be relatively easy to find, consider side airbags that protect the head and chest. You’ll have to do some research, because not all car manufacturers approach this the same way. “The trend is now more curtain airbags for the head and more door-mounted for the chest,” says Mark Krawczyk, consumer information director for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Electronic stability control helps drivers maintain control of their vehicles during extreme steering maneuvers. Since teens are prone to overcorrecting in an emergency, it may be well worth it. The feature “cuts single vehicle crashes by more than half in our studies,” says Susan Ferguson, senior vice president of research for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Anti-lock brakes (ABS) also allow a driver to maintain control of the steering during emergency braking situations. Be sure to teach your teen to use anti-lock brakes properly in an emergency – hit the brakes hard and don’t let up. The pulsing vibration you feel means the ABS are working; some drivers instinctively let up on the brake when they feel it, so it’s important to practice not letting up on the brake so your teen will do the right thing in an emergency situation.
If your budget allows, check out the more advanced crash-avoidance technologies found on newer modes, such as emergency brake assist, lane departure warnings, and blind spot warnings.
And don’t forget the basics. All vehicles come with safety belts – make sure your teen wears them on every trip. Don’t forget to check the tires, headlight and taillights on a regular basis to make sure they’re in good working order.
Lastly, when buying a car for your teen, realize that you are entering a new era of driver training. Your teen will be excited and very probably overconfident in her or his abilities. Be sure to train them in the vehicle you choose. Require that your young driver demonstrate responsible behavior and meet experience requirements in diverse road conditions before heading out on the road alone. Check up on them frequently. Sign a teen driving contract to make sure your teen explicitly understands your requirements.