One of the best things about high school is learning how to drive. As a teen, this often feels like one of the first steps toward adulthood and being more independent. Learning to drive represents a new sense of freedom that comes from being able to provide transportation for oneself. For some, it’s also an opportunity to drive with friends and have fun without parents or older siblings in the car. Driving, however, is often dangerous and crashes are a leading cause of death among teenagers. This is generally due to inexperience that can hinder good decision-making while behind the wheel. To avoid these problems, it’s important to understand and abide by all driving laws and to recognize dangerous situations and behaviors that can cause or contribute to car accidents.
Dangerous Situations on the Road
It’s important to recognize certain situations that have the potential to cause minor or major car accidents that could harm yourself, your passengers, or others on the road. For that reason, teen drivers must be aware of what these situations are and how they affect their ability to safely operate a car. Some of the most common situational dangers for people in high school are ones that involve driving with friends. Our peers can be excited, overly talkative, and basically a distraction. Depending on the friends, their presence can encourage or pressure you to go faster or behave in other reckless ways while on the road.
Driving at night is another situation that can be dangerous for any inexperienced driver. Darkness is often a challenge for teen drivers as it reduces visibility, one’s field of vision, and makes it difficult to judge the distance between vehicles. New drivers unaccustomed to driving at night often find it difficult to adjust to the brightness of oncoming lights as well. Night driving also increases the chances of being tired or sleepy behind the wheel.
Behaviors That Can Get Teens in Trouble on the Road
Bad and unsafe behavior when driving is behavior that’s reckless and dangerous, and can lead to bad driving habits that last a lifetime. It’s important to recognize bad driving before they result in an accident, injury, or death. Eating, playing loud music while driving, and using the cell phone to talk, text, or use social media are distractions that take your mind, eyes, or hands away from the act of driving. Drinking alcohol and driving increases the risk of getting into or causing an accident as does speeding and driving recklessly. In fact, according to SafeKids, one-third of teens killed in vehicle crashes were speeding.
More than any other age group, teens are likely to drive without wearing a seatbelt; a sometimes fatal mistake. Seatbelts might seem uncomfortable and like a waste of time and effort, but they’re often the difference between life and death in the event of an accident. Buckle up and have passengers buckle up every time, even if driving a short distance as a seatbelt can reduce the risk of major injuries by half.
Avoiding Dangerous Situations and Understanding GDLs
Some of the dangerous situations that you’ll encounter as a teen driver are averted courtesy of graduated driver’s license (GDL) laws. These laws lessen situations such as night driving and too many passengers in the car. They differ by state, however, most prohibit new drivers from driving at night without experienced adult supervision. One can also improve their chances of night driving safely by being well-rested before getting behind the wheel to avoid being overly tired and to improve focus.
Graduated driver’s licenses also help prevent situations that arise due to passengers and their behavior. These laws limit the number of teenage passengers that are allowed to ride in one’s car after they receive their license. Some states do not allow any passengers who are not adults, while other states may allow drivers to give a limited number of their peers a ride provided they aren’t below a certain age. In states that allow passengers, only give rides to friends who understand the seriousness of operating a vehicle and will not be disruptive. These GDL restrictions are lifted when the driver reaches a certain age, however, this too varies by state.
Basic Behaviors for Safe Teen Drivers
Anything that distracts from driving should be done before getting behind the wheel. While driving, cellphones should be powered down and kept in one’s purse, backpack, trunk, or any location that’s not reachable. This reduces the urge to contact friends or answer their calls until the car is no longer in motion. Only drive when both hands are free and there’s no reason to look away from the road. This means things like eating and selecting music should be done when the car is parked.
Driving with friends can be fun, but it is still something to take seriously. Although a car may have the ability to go fast, resist the urge and always obey the posted speed limit. The unexpected can easily cause a young driver to lose control of the car and a fun time speeding may even cost the life of a friend or loved one. Alcohol and a lack of experience far too frequently equal tragedy behind the wheel. In fact, the chances of getting in a fatal crash when intoxicated is higher for teens than adults for this reason. Don’t drink and drive no matter how small the drink.