Safety Belts and Driving Safety

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Harvard Medical School
Chrome 2001
Chrome 2001

Safety Belts and Driving Safety

Guiding Your Child Through The Adolescent Years
Middle Adolescence Features
Safety Belts and Driving Safety
Safety Belts and Driving Safety
Learn how to keep your new driver safe behind the wheel.
InteliHealth Medical Content
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Safety Belts and Driving Safety

The day your teen brings home a driver's license is one of the most exciting in his life. Being able to drive oneself around is an important step toward independence; your teen no longer depends on you to take him to school, after-school activities, work, parties or shopping. While this can mean more "free" time for parents, it also means more worries for them. The roads are dangerous for everyone, but especially new drivers who are teen-agers. It is important for parents to understand what driving situations most often lead to motor vehicle accidents involving teen drivers. Parents and teens alike need to know what can be done ahead of time to prevent injuries and deaths. Your teen also must know what he should do to protect himself if he should be involved in a crash. Although no amount of education and planning will eliminate the worry, taking some very simple steps may help parents rest a bit easier.

Car crashes and teens

Motor-vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death for adolescents. In 2012, more than 5,000 children and young adults between 2 and 20 years old were injured, and more than 33,600 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), teens are at greatest risk per mile traveled for being involved in a crash compared with all other age groups.

Here are some more facts about:

  • New, young drivers. Motor-vehicle crashes involving new (16-year-old) drivers are more likely to be the result of driver error, to involve a speeding vehicle, to be a single-vehicle accident in which the teen driver lost control, and to involve a higher number of passengers.
  • Night driving. Nighttime driving is especially dangerous for new drivers; half of teen deaths from motor vehicle crashes occur between 3 p.m. and midnight.
  • Seat belts. Safety-belt use is lowest among teen drivers. Almost 56% of passenger-vehicle occupants aged 16 to 20 killed in car crashes are not wearing seat belts.
  • Alcohol. Tragically, one of four teens killed in car accidents had a blood-alcohol level high enough for the crash to be considered "alcohol-related."

Faced with these facts, all parents must teach their teen drivers how best to protect themselves from the dangers of the road. This means taking steps to prevent crashes in the first place and to increase teen safety in the event of a crash. Follow these recommendations adapted from the NHTSA:

  1. Don't rely solely on driver's education programs. These courses can be helpful, but do not always produce safe teen-age drivers. More important, these courses may not change a teen's thinking or decision-making skills. Parents are in the best position to impress upon their children the importance of safe driving and to help them not to let peer pressure lead to serious risk-taking behaviors, which result in crashes. Parents also are key role models. Teens need to learn from their parents by seeing them always wearing their seat belt properly, driving within the speed limit, driving defensively and taking responsibility for their vehicle.
  2. Limit night driving. Driving at night is more difficult, especially for less- experienced drivers. In addition, it is at night that kids are more likely to be driving to and from recreational activities, with more passengers, more distractions, and a greater likelihood of alcohol use. All of these factors make car accidents more likely, and as such, teens should only drive at night when really necessary.
  3. Do not allow passengers. Passengers, especially other teens, are a major risk factor for accidents involving teen drivers. They cause distractions that new drivers cannot handle well. Furthermore, teen drivers may take dangerous risks to impress their passengers, giving in to peer pressure.
  4. Practice driving with your teen. Help your teen learn to handle difficult situations like night driving and heavy traffic by practicing with him. Do this both before and after your teen gets a driver's license. Make sure your teen understands that these situations can be difficult for all drivers and only become easier after many years of practice.
  5. Insist that seat belts be worn at all times. Make it a family rule that everyone must wear a seat belt when driving or riding in any car. Teach your teen how to wear seat belts properly. Always buckle the lap and shoulder belt, not one or the other. Use them even on the shortest trips. Refuse to start the car until all passengers are buckled in. Do not allow your teen to travel as a passenger in other cars without a seat belt. The more you repeat this message, the more likely your child will use a seat belt when driving by himself.
  6. Do not allow drinking and driving. Obviously, it is illegal for teens to use alcohol. More important, teens are affected greatly by alcohol, much more so than older drivers are, and even small amounts can significantly impair driving. Urge your teen NEVER to drink if he is driving and NEVER to accept a ride from someone who has been drinking.
  7. Plan for emergencies. Make sure your teen knows what to do in case he (or a friend) has been drinking and was supposed to drive home. Let him know that he can call you and you will pick him up, no questions asked. He should know that you will not be angry with him for calling to be picked up. It is also a good idea to make sure that your teen has enough money with him at all times for public transportation or cab fare. Identify other resources in the community (for example, church and school designated driver programs) and supply your teen with contact information to use in an emergency. Some kids will be more willing to use such resources rather than call their own parents. Regardless of the method that your teen uses to get home safely, he should be praised for acting responsibly. You can deal with the issue of underage drinking at a later time.
  8. Choose cars carefully. When choosing a vehicle for your teen to drive, base your decision on safety and not image. For example, small sports cars encourage speeding and reckless driving, and are less safe in crashes. Sport utility vehicles are more likely to roll over in a crash. Investigate the crash-test performance of different vehicles and choose one that best will protect your teen in the event of a crash. Spend money to have certain safety features installed. It is well worth it.

For more information, see these Web sites:

Statistics and tips:

Drunk driving prevention:


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Last updated September 08, 2014

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