"Mom, Dad, can I borrow the car?"
Is this where the saying, "if I had a nickel every time I heard that," comes from?
Research backs up your intuition that you should think twice before you hand the keys over to your sad-eyed, pouty-lipped teen who's begging you to let her take your new car for a spin to the mall.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (), traffic crashes are the leading cause of death of teenagers in the United States. Statistics show that teens are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers.
It's summer, which means curfews are pushed back, parental supervision is less overbearing, and teens are more anxious than ever to have their friends pile in the car and take off. Here are a few important rules to establish with your teen when it comes to driving:
- Buckle up: Seatbelts may not seem "cool," but they save lives. The majority of teens involved in fatal crashes weren't wearing seat belts. Parents should set an example for their teen by making the seatbelt a regular habit. Teens should also be taught to make sure any passengers are wearing seatbelts at all times.
- Create a 'no cell-zone': It may be hard enough to peel your teen's phone out of his hands when he's not behind the wheel, but it's absolutely imperative to set ground rules about using it in the car. Sixteen percent of all teen drivers involved in fatal crashes are distracted. Fines for driving while using the phone are also becoming more expensive. If you let your teen know he'll be the one shelling out if he's caught driving and "dialing" it may serve as a deterrent.
- Enforce a curfew: Limit driving privileges during high-risk, accident-prone times (typically Friday and Saturday nights). In 2009, 17 percent of fatal accidents involving teenagers occurred between 9 p.m. and midnight, and 26 percent between midnight and 6 a.m.
- Limit the number of passengers: With every extra passenger comes more responsibility and a greater risk of distraction. Set rules for not only who your teen is allowed to drive, but where. Every time your teen wants to drive somewhere far, she should have to ask for your permission.
- Lower the volume: It's just asimportant to hear as to seewhat's going on around you while you're driving. Teens love listening to music (especially in the car), but blasting the latest Lady Gaga song can block out honks and other road noises. Wearing headphones while driving should also be prohibited.
- Don't speed: In a recent interview, Bob Green, automotive training and traffic safety specialist and president of the organization, told us people aren't aware how destructive driving can be, even at "low" speed. "In all those crash tests you see on TV, they're only going about 35 miles per hour," he said. "The crash test dummies don't break, bleed, hurt or get killed...so how do you think you'll do? The seat belt and air bag may not be enough restraint to keep your body back from what is the equivalent of a fall off a four-story building, at 35 miles per hour."
- Never drive under the influence: Even though they're below the legal drinking age, teens are at a greater risk for a fatal accident when alcohol is involved. Encourage open communication with your teen so he feels comfortable calling you for a ride if he finds himself in a situation where he can't drive or a friend is driving drunk.
- Double-check everything:Don't ignore the "check engine" light if it comes on. Make sure all the lights work, the brakes are in check, the air bags are functioning properly, and that the tires have enough air.
- Function, not fashion: Sandals, high heels, or clunky boots aren't the best footwear for safe driving. Teach your daughter that there's dress shoes, everyday shoes, and, designated driving shoes. A pair can always be left in the car for precaution.
These tips are not a guarantee that your teen won't be involved in an accident. But it's better to have this critical discussion with your teen, than to wish that you had. After all, teaching responsibility can be as easy as taking the precious keys right back!