For teenagers, getting their license is an exciting time. It’s their first taste of freedom and, in a way, one of the first steps to adulthood. Unfortunately, for too many young drivers, this freedom can often lead to negative driving decisions. Whether it’s driving too quickly on a back road or feeling the urge to answer a phone call, reckless decisions and peer pressure from passengers can often result in drivers abandoning the responsible driving rules they learned in favor of one quick but damaging mistake.
June is National Safety Awareness Month, and a time for drivers and their parents, driving instructors and friends to remember how important it is to drive safe and smart.
“When you start out driving, you know the rules and you follow them. But once you get too many people in a car or you get too used to the idea of driving, you might give in to temptation to make a bad driving decision,” says Tom Kalina, an occupational therapist and certified driver rehab specialist with Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital’s Driving Rehabilitation Program. “For a new driver, especially, that temptation is great because they can feel invincible. The frontal cortex of the brain is responsible for decision making and is not fully developed until 25 years of age. So a teen driver is almost hard-wired into making poor decisions at times.”
So how can you keep your new driver safe on the road and guarantee that they won’t make negative decisions? You can’t, says Kalina, but you can take steps to ensure that they’re learning to drive in the safest way possible by making sure that you, as a parent, friend or sibling, are leading by example.
Watch your speed. Young drivers do not fully appreciate momentum and might give in to the rush of pushing the speed limit, but it’s an easy pattern for experienced drivers to get into, as well, especially on roads you’re familiar with. Make sure that you’re following the speed limit everywhere you go, but especially in residential areas.
Put down the cell phone. It’s the cautionary tale that we hear all too often, but being on your cell phone while you’re driving accounts for thousands of driving deaths each year, and can put others on the road in danger, too. Don’t tell your teen not to answer phone calls or text messages if you’re guilty of it. Turn off or silence your phone when you get in the car to drive or when you and your student driver are practicing driving. If you must use the phone, use a Bluetooth device and turn off text message notifications. Ask yourself if a call or text message is worth someone’s life.
Be a defensive driver. “You should try to anticipate what another driver is going to do,” explains Kalina. “If you see a car that is swerving or driving recklessly, don’t rush to compete, pass them or get visibly angry with them. Extreme decisions or emotions can be dangerous.”
Cut out distractions. Instead of rummaging for your CD or iPod while you’re driving, make sure you set your music or radio station before you go. Eliminate other distractions, too, by making sure you have everything you need prepared. If you have a GPS, set it before you go and if you need something beside you, like a water bottle or sunglasses, have them ready.
Wear a seatbelt. Like the rest of these suggestions, getting into the car and forgetting or neglecting to put on your seatbelt is something that might be easy to do, but make sure it's a habit. Drivers and passengers who wear seatbelts are 60 percent more likely to survive a crash than those who don’t, so make sure your teen knows it’s the first thing to do when they get in the car.
Make good decisions. “Your job when driving is getting from Point A to Point B safely, nothing else,” states Kalina. “Between Point A and Point B, you have lots of decisions to make. Should I go? Should I wait? Always make the safest decision. Listen to that good angel on your shoulder and ignore the bad one that is telling you to take a risk.”
Following these safe driving habits can help your student driver understand the seriousness of driving and the responsibility that comes along with newfound freedom. However, Kalina also suggests sitting down to have an honest conversation about the dangers of distracted driving.
“You hear of lives lost or changed forever because of injury, and not just the drivers and passengers. Their families suffer a loss, too, and their lives are changed forever because of one decision. Talking about that reality and being candid about the risks and dangers of driving recklessly can be beneficial in making them aware of who else their decisions can be affecting,” he says.
Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital is taking their message of safety to the streets with their award-winning Cruisin’ Not Boozin’ program. To learn more, call the Cruisin’ not Boozin’ program coordinator at 484.596.5465.