Remember when you were a teen and couldn’t wait to get your driver’s license? All you could think about was getting behind the wheel, cranking up the radio, picking up friends in your neighborhood and cruising around town.
When teens start driving, chances are their friends are learning to drive too — so at some point your teen is likely to be a passenger in a car driven by someone without much experience. The sad news is that more than half of teens who die in car crashes are not behind the wheel, and a teen’s chances of getting in a fatal wreck rise sharply if they ride with a teen driver.
Teen passengers can lower this risk by limiting distractions, respecting the driver and always wearing a seat belt. Here are six quick tips for teaching your teens to be safety-minded passengers:
• Talk about how to be a safe passenger. Distracted driving is a major cause of crashes, and passenger distractions are particularly dangerous for new drivers. Discuss helpful passenger behaviors, such as reading directions when asked and respecting the driver by not talking loudly, chatting on a cell phone, playing loud music or acting disruptively.
• Insist on seat belts. Most adolescent passengers who die in wrecks aren’t wearing seat belts. Explain that by buckling up, they’ll help protect their friends’ lives as well as their own. In a crash, an unrestrained body can hurt others in the car.
• Don’t let your child ride with a driver who has less than a year of experience. Most teen crashes are the result of ‘rookie’ mistakes. Even the most mature teen needs time to gain driving experience through adult-supervised driving.
• Pay attention. To help them make good safety decisions, keep the lines of communication open. Know where they are going and why, and discuss how they will get there and when they will be home. Provide alternatives, like rides, to allow them to avoid unsafe driving situations.
• Create a code word. Help teens get out of unsafe situations by having them call or text you with a previously agreed-upon code word that signals trouble. When you hear or see the word, pick them up right away.
• Lead by example. Always wear a seat belt. Don’t talk on a cell phone or text while driving. Don’t speed.
If teens will follow these tips and the rules of the road, they will learn to be safety-minded passengers.
I always like to close my column by sharing this truth that I live by: The key to having a successful life begins with being a good neighbor, building relationships based on honesty and trust, working hard to make a difference for your family and community and being thankful for all the blessings along the way.
Justin Mays is a local businessman who serves neighbors in Bell and Harlan counties in Kentucky and Claiborne County in Tennessee. He may be reached at [email protected]