Teen drivers are statistically more likely to get into an accident than their older counterparts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that the fatality rate per mile driven for 16-19 year-olds is nearly three times the rate for drivers ages 20 and older. The largest contributor to this statistic is driver inexperience, but distractions and a greater willingness to take risks also play a part.
Proper preparation before, during and after you get your license will help you stay safe behind the wheel and avoid becoming a tragic statistic.
Lesson 1: Before getting your driver’s license … practice, practice, practice. The number one cause of teen traffic fatalities and accidents is lack of experience, so it’s important to get as much supervised practice as possible. If mom needs a carton of milk, volunteer to drive her to the market to get it. If you’ve got nothing to do on a Saturday afternoon, ask your dad if he’d like to take a little ride with his soon-to-be licensed driver. The more you practice, the better you’ll be prepared. Enrolling in a driver’s education course will provide the tools you need to know before getting in the driver’s seat, including traffic laws and basic instruction. (Completing a course may also be a condition of getting your learner’s permit.) The most important thing to do before you get your license is log as many driving hours as possible accompanied by a licensed adult – preferably a parent, guardian or instructor over the age of 25 – to experience first-hand what you’ve learned in class and your driver’s handbook. Having someone to guide you will help improve your driving skills.
Lesson 2: Be prepared. Occasionally accidents, tire blowouts or breakdowns happen. Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle that includes a first aid kit, flares, jumper cables, a jack and lug wrench, a tire gauge and your roadside assistance phone number if you have one. Also have your insurance card readily accessible.
Lesson 3: Buckle up. Seat belts are the most effective device to prevent death and injury in a crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, reducing the risk of crash injuries by 50 percent.
Lesson 4: Ditch the distractions. Distracted driving is most commonly associated with using a cell phone or texting while driving, but it includes anything that diverts your attention from the primary task of driving (e.g., eating and drinking, talking to passengers, adjusting the radio or using a GPS). Distraction.gov estimates that in 2012, 421,000 people were injured in a crash involving a distracted driver. Turn off your phone when you get in your car and pledge not to text while driving. If you must contact someone before you reach your final destination, pull over in a safe place first. Mercury Insurance offers additional tips to avoid distracted driving.
Lesson 5: Don’t speed. Speed limits are set for a reason so don’t break them.
Lesson 6: Be aware of other drivers. Driving safety isn’t just about your behavior, but also depends on those around you. Don’t assume they’re being attentive – they may be participating in distracted driving activities and not see the stop sign or traffic light ahead of them. Use caution when entering intersections, changing lanes, turning and entering and exiting parking spots.
Lesson 7: Adjust for the elements. Inclement weather affects how vehicles handle on the road. It takes longer to stop on a wet or icy pavement, for example, so you’ll need to allow more braking distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you. And remember to slow down.
Lesson 8: Set an example. Some teens are putting off getting their licenses, citing having friends who can drive them around as one of the reasons. Before chauffeuring your unlicensed friends, note that, as a new driver, your risk of getting into a fatal accident increases with the number of passengers you have. It’s exciting to have the freedom to not rely on your parents for transportation but driving is a privilege, not a right. We learn much of our driving behavior as passengers. Demonstrate the proper way to drive by not taking risks or engaging in distracted behavior. And don’t be peer-pressured into driving your friends places before you’re comfortable.
Lesson 9: Don’t drive under the influence. Not only is it illegal and dangerous, but it can have a costly impact on your insurance premiums or future insurability. Many states also have a zero tolerance law that allows the state to take the licenses of drivers under the age of 21 if they have any trace of alcohol in their systems. So the lesson here is: Don’t be stupid! Never drive under the influence of alcohol or any other illegal substance. This also includes prescription medications that might impair your ability to drive.
Having a license doesn’t automatically make you a good driver but being alert, responsible and practicing good driving behavior will set you on the right path.
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