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Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post from Tim Hollister, who lost his son Reid in 2006 to a car crash. In honor of the upcoming Teen Driver Safety Week (October 20-26), we invited Tim to share his story and wisdom with our readers on how to keep teenagers safe behind the wheel, even after they’ve passed the driving test. I encourage you to learn more about Tim and his son in this video.
BY Tim Hollister | Father of teen driving victim, blogger at www.fromreidsdad.org
The day my son Reid, then 16 1/2, got his driver’s license was a day of achievement, relief, and pride. Achievement because he had certifiably learned what a teen needs to know to operate a car safely. Relief because we now had another driver in the house. Pride because we revel in our kids’ milestones, don’t we?
For 11 months in 2006, Reid drove crash-free. During that time I considered myself a well-informed, hands-on parent.
My perspective has changed since Reid died in a one-car crash. On an interstate highway, probably speeding to get his two younger passengers home by their parent-imposed curfew, he went too far straight when the road veered to the right, over-corrected, went into a spin, and hit a guardrail.
A year later, after our state suffered a string of multiple-fatality teen driver crashes, our Governor appointed me to a task force charged with overhauling our Graduated Driver License law. We did.
Serving on that task force, however, I received a re-education in teen driving. I learned that in 2006 I had not been the well-informed parent I thought I was. After my state service, I kept at it, learning what I wished I had known while supervising Reid’s driving.
When I had a critical mass of information, in 2009, I launched a national blog for parents of teen drivers, that aims to convey to parents these critical points:
1. Much of the literature available to parents focuses on teaching teens to drive a car, but doesn’t explain why teen driving is so risky, and doesn’t give parents a day-to-day game plan for counteracting the situations that most often cause teen drivers to crash.
A parent’s job is not just to teach a teen to drive a car, but to prevent the most dangerous situations from happening before their teens get behind the wheel.
2. There is no such thing as a safe teen driver. The human brain does not fully develop until we reach our mid-20’s, and the last lobe that “connects” is the one that supplies judgment and restraint. No amount of driver training and good intentions can overcome this limitation.
3. In trying to get teen drivers to understand that they are beginners undertaking a dangerous activity, we would do better to skip videos showing twisted metal and blood and instead have teens listen to personal stories of families who have lost a teen — and can explain what emotional devastation is.
4. For new drivers, the only policy regarding electronic devices (not just cell phones but all in-vehicle devices, including dashboard-mounted interactive screens with Internet access) is zero tolerance. And parents who update their Facebook page or read a restaurant review while driving will have a hard time delivering an effective warning to teens about texting.
5. Joyriding – multiple teens in one car with a teen driver, driving for fun with no particular destination, route, or timetable – is a recipe for disaster, as the nation witnessed in March 2013 when twenty teens, joyriders, died in crashes in four states in one week.
6. Supervising teen drivers takes a village. Neither law enforcement nor parents can supervise teen drivers all the time. Every parent, relative, neighbor, teacher, coach, and counselor needs to take responsibility for supervising teen drivers, reminding them when they are driving illegally, and letting their parents or guardians know when they have witnessed a violation or unsafe practice. Easier said than done, but essential to safety.
7. Parents need to treat teen driving like flying, modeling their oversight after air traffic controllers. Just as one would not toss keys to a pilot with a simple “Be careful,” parents should work with teens before every drive to prepare and enforce a safety-oriented “flight plan.”
Understanding the dangers of teen driving and stepping up our preventive oversight of new drivers, parents and all who oversee young drivers can reduce crash rates, fatalities, and injuries, and their incalculable impact on families and communities.
About the Author: Tim Hollister of Bloomfield, Connecticut, publishes the national blog for parents “From Reid’s Dad,” www.fromreidsdad.org and is the author of a new book, NOT SO FAST: Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving.
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