This is National Teen Driver Safety Week, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hopes its “Parents are Key” campaign will help parents encourage safe driving habits.
Among the tools for parents on the CDC’s website: a "Parent-Teen Driving Agreement," designed to be posted on refrigerators and serve as a daily safety reminder (see here: 1.usa.gov/1s9lB3q). On the CDC site, parents can also learn about common danger zones and state driving laws.
Also this week, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) is running its "5 to Drive" campaign, urging parents and guardians to discuss one safety topic each day, Monday through Friday.
The 5 NHTSA safety recommendations: no cell phone use or texting while driving, no extra passengers, no speeding, no alcohol, and no driving or riding without a seatbelt. (See more here: 1.usa.gov/1nS1mMJ.)
"Despite a declining trend, young drivers remain the largest percentage of crashes and deaths on our roads and we must all do more to change that," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement sent to Reuters Health.
From 2003 to 2012, the number of teens who died each year in motor vehicle crashes declined by 50 percent, from nearly 6,000 to 3,000.
During the same period, the rate of passenger vehicle drivers ages 16 to 19 years involved in fatal crashes fell by 52 percent, according to data compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Despite the declines, motor vehicle crashes remain a leading cause of death for teens. Among teens who died in passenger vehicle crashes in 2012, some 60 percent were not wearing a seatbelt.
Sixteen-year-old Casandra Giles, a high school student from Zion, Illinois, told Reuters Health she avoids texting and eating while driving, because she distrusts other teenage drivers and wishes to remain vigilant behind the wheel.
"I wear my seatbelt at all times, and I never use my cell phone, because I want my passenger to be safe, too," Giles said. "Many teenagers take driving for granted and speed and show off for other students around school. Some drink, when they get it from older siblings."
Nearly one million high school teens drank alcohol and drove in 2011, according to the CDC.
Richard Patnode, a driving instructor with Arcade Drivers School, Inc. based in Kenosha, Wisconsin, said he believes many parents set a bad example and are reluctant to teach their teens about driving.
Patnode, who teaches some 500 students each year, said he has seen some students illegally drive themselves to driving school. "The parents need to take them driving, not just leave it to driving schools," Patnode told Reuters Health. "Some parents are afraid and never talk about texting or cell phone use. Parents still do it and they can't focus, either."
Dr. Ruth Shults, senior epidemiologist in the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention at the CDC, advises parents to allow their teens to drive family vehicles, because they tend to be safer than the older, more affordable vehicles of many teens.
"Teens who share a family car tend to take fewer risks when driving. Also, family cars are typically newer than a car that would be purchased for a teen, so they are likely to have more safety features," Shults said in a statement to Reuters Health. "Prohibit driving when crashes are more likely to occur—at night and when there are other teens in the car."
The CDC also has tools to help pediatricians talk to their young patients about safe driving, here: 1.usa.gov/1tgoy7t.