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Talking About Driving Before Your Teen is Behind the Wheel

Teens start thinking about driving as early as age 13 and are more likely to die as passengers in cars driven by teens. A statewide summit is planned to help families get a jump on the issue.

Last Friday and Saturday, I had the privilege of co-facilitating a workshop at the 11th annual New Jersey Parent Teacher Association (PTA) convention in Long Branch. What was the topic? Teen driving (no surprise for those of you who follow my weekly blog), but more specifically when should parents start thinking about teen driving.

While it may seem most appropriate at age 16—the earliest that a teen may obtain a permit under New Jersey’s Graduated Driver License (GDL) program—researchers at the Center for Injury Prevention and Research at Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia suggest starting the dialogue with children (or tweens) as young as 11. Why five years early? Adolescent and teen passengers are more likely to die if a teen driver is behind the wheel. Starting at the age of 12, a child passenger’s risk of dying in a crash involving a teen driver doubles, and the risk continues to rise for each teen year. And even more startling, 63% of teenage passenger deaths in 2008 occurred in vehicles driven by another teen.

Today’s children and teens are the most mobile generation ever. They always seem to be in cars going somewhere and they don’t walk to school at nearly the rate of previous generations. Since we are spending an awful lot of “family” time in our cars, why not use some of that time to talk with our kids about driving? After all, teens start thinking about driving as early as age 13 (another CHOP finding) and when they’re in the car with us, we’ve essentially got a captive audience.  (Getting them to disconnect from their electronics could be met with a few moans and groans—I speak from experience—but it’s worth it.)

According to a national study conducted in 2010 by Safe Kids Worldwide, just 1 in 5 of us are discussing the topic with our 13- and 14-year-olds. Perhaps this lack of conversation stems from the fact that only 20 percent of parents ranked riding as a passenger with a teen driver as the number one risk for their 13 and 14-year-olds. Meanwhile, 31% of parents with a 14-year-old or a driver under 18 consider teen drivers as the top risk.

Mile for mile, teens are involved in three times as many fatal car crashes as all other drivers. And crashes kill more teens than the next three leading causes of death for this age group combined. Talking about teen driving before our children are of driving age and continuing that dialogue while they’re learning to drive and well after they’re fully licensed is critical.

To help parents and teens get a jump on the discussion, the New Jersey Teen Safe Driving Coalition is once again sponsoring a statewide summit for teens 14 to 16 years of age and their parents. Dubbed GDL4U: Good Driving for Life, the event will be held on Saturday May 12, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at iPlay America in Freehold (110 Schanck Road, just off Route 9).

Led by teens, the Summit provides teens and their parents the opportunity to learn about the dangers teens face on the road and what they can do to address those risks through a series of workshops and presentations. The teen workshop tract will focus on seat belt use (just 79% of 14-year-olds buckle up, despite 94% of parents assuming that they always do), how passengers distract drivers, the dangers of driving at night, and the impact drugs and alcohol have on a teen’s ability to safely operate a vehicle.

Parents, meanwhile, will not only learn about the components of the GDL program, but how it works to address teen crash risk. They’ll also get coaching tips from driver training professionals, learn what to look for when it comes to selecting a safe vehicle, and the impact a teen driver has on a family’s insurance and liability. Both parents and teens  will also have the opportunity to learn about the dangers of distracted driving as they operate golf carts on a closed course while texting and talking on cell phones.

The Summit will feature keynote speaker Maryanne Abbate, whose 16-year-old  son Luke was killed while riding as a passenger in a vehicle driven by a newly licensed teen. Her story is chronicled in the 2011 feature film, The 5th Quarter, which starred Andie McDowell and Aidan Quinn. Maryanne will be joined by the mother-daughter duo of Kristen and Megan Lavery. The Lavery’s have made
educating teens and their parents about teen crash risk a priority after the death of four Mainland High School football players last August. Megan is a junior and Kristen is a member of the support staff at the South Jersey high school.

If you’re the parent of a 14-16 year old, I urge you and your teen to register. My then 15-year-old son (now on his permit) reluctantly participated in last year’s summit (yes, I made him attend). He admitted afterward, however, that it was "really good" (his words, not mine). And I’m even more pleased that he’ll be one of the teens helping to lead this year’s event. I’m also happy to note that the cost to participate is minimal—$15 per teen and one parent, $25 per family—thanks to the support of The Allstate Foundation, the New Jersey Emergency Nurses Association, and the AAA Clubs of New Jersey.

I hope that you’ll join with Maryanne, Megan, Kristen, and our many teen and adult volunteers as well as my son and I at the 2012 GDL4U Summit. I promise that you and your teen will not only learn a great deal, but have a lot of fun, too.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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