I can distinctly remember the sense of freedom I felt the day I turned 16 and my parents handed me the car keys for the first time. Sure, we lived in a small town and I was usually only driving a few blocks to my friends houses or school, but it was the idea of it all, the fact that I could.
I was thinking about this after reading about a couple of studies that came out recently on teen driving. Conducted by researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the studies find that teenagers with their own cars are much more likely to get into crashes than those who share a car, while crashes are much more infrequent among teens who have clear driving safety rules in place.
It’s funny how time can give you a different perspective. When I think back to the excruciatingly long weeks and months leading up to my 16th birthday, I have no trouble conjuring up the feelings of anticipation and entitlement. After all, it was a given that as soon as I reached that age, I would drive, an idea that was fortified by seeing countless friends and peers on the road every day.
This feeling is nothing new, and research clearly reflects this feeling among teens, and especially those who have their own car, which can often make them less cautious.
Like I said, it’s easy to recall those feelings, but the facts are startlingly grim: Traffic crashes kill more than 5,000 teens each year, the leading cause of death for the age group. In addition, more than 7,000 people were killed in crashes involving teen drives in 2007, including more than 3,000 teen deaths and more than 250,000 teen injuries.
According to Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston, who headed one of the studies, “Families need to know that driving is different from other steps toward independence. Just at the time their teen is pulling away, they need to get back involved to spare them heartache.”
According to Jeffrey Weiss, who co-wrote an American Academy of Pediatrics report on the subject, “With teen drivers, you have to recognize that it’s a public health issue.”
Now that I’m a parent, I am all too aware of the risks involved and am increasingly focused on the safety aspect of the issue. For the record, the studies suggest that setting clear rules and monitoring childrens’ locations without becoming overly controlling are the best ways to keep them safe. Maybe that doesn’t seem like groundbreaking advice, but if nothing else, it’s a good reminder that passing on the car keys comes with a huge amount of responsibility for everyone involved.