It’s natural for a teenager to get excited about the freedom that a driver’s license represents, and want to share that excitement with his friends. It’s also imperative for the parent to remain involved, even past the learner’s permit stage. While there are laws in place regarding the number of passengers a teen driver can have during the first year — in New York, for example, only one passenger under the age of 21 is permitted — the temptation to ignore these and other safety measures can be heightened in a group. So what are the risks, and what can parents do to help keep their young driver safe?
Few would be surprised to learn that a teen driver’s crash risk increases in proportion to the number of passengers in the vehicle. In fact, having two or more passengers can more than triple the risk. It stands to reason — the more people there are in the car, the more opportunities there are for distraction. Also, the ones who are more likely to drive with multiple passengers tend to subscribe to a certain “mob” mentality, making them more susceptible to poor decisions.
Interestingly, the crash risk is much higher when the driver in question is male — boys are six times more likely to indulge in the sort of Peer Pressure behavior that leads to serious accidents, such as speeding, passing when it isn’t safe to do so, and so on. Girls, on the other hand, rarely drive aggressively whether there are passengers in the vehicle or not.
Understanding the Teen Brain
Just as it’s easy to understand why the crash risk intensifies when more young people are there to distract the driver, it’s not hard to deduce why teens would engage in risky behavior in order to show off. Everyone wants to fit in and be liked, and high school-aged kids especially want to be seen as cool and daring — playing it safe doesn’t always fit in with that image.
But there’s more science behind the dynamic than a simple need to fit in. Studies have shown that in a developing adolescent brain, the reward system is wired to respond more positively to danger, especially when the person is spending a lot of time amongst his or her peers. As the brain matures, the person is able to make more rationalized decisions, even when emotions are running high. This isn’t to say that teens should be let completely off the hook for consistent misbehavior, but it’s important to recognize that their synapses don’t fire the same way as an adult’s would.
Steps to Take for Ensuring Safety
While there’s no way of guaranteeing anyone’s safety when it comes to traveling by automobile (or anything at all, for that matter), there are guidelines that can be observed to lessen the risks inherent in teen driving.
Set rules regarding how many people are allowed in the car when the teenager is behind the wheel. As mentioned above, many states already have laws in place regarding this issue. Emphasize the importance of the rule, and make sure it’s understood and enforced. For very new drivers, it might be a good idea to impose a three-month probationary period, allowing no passengers at all save for family members.
Remember that there are other teen drivers out there as well. Don’t allow teens to get in the car with anyone else who’s had their license for fewer than three months. If she isn’t allowed to have a teen passenger herself, then she shouldn’t be one for another young driver. Volunteer to do the driving instead if this becomes an issue.
Reward good judgment, and keep punishments for first offenses light. Everyone makes mistakes, and even the most well-intentioned teen can succumb to peer pressure and make poor decisions. If he gets himself into a sticky situation and needs help bailing out of it, be positive. Thank him for recognizing the danger, and reiterate that it’s important to avoid these situations in the future. Harsh punishment will only lead to resentment.
Every parent was once a teenager themselves, and as such, has a dual perspective on the difficulties of the age that the teen himself lacks. It’s important to remember this when navigating the bumpy road of rearing an adolescent. Keep these tips in mind to ensure a safer, more pleasant journey.