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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Parents Must Model Responsible Driving for Teenagers

Parents Must Model Responsible Driving for Teenagers

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Sun, Aug. 08, 2004
By Nancy Baer, MSW

TO ERIC, driving is fun. It makes him feel grown-up, free and in control. He doesn't think about the dangers, nor contemplate that in driving, mistakes often don't give a second chance.

His mother, Shannon, has mixed feelings about letting him drive. It's good for him to become independent, and he needs driving experience and confidence. And it's more convenient if he drives himself.

But Shannon's cousin died at the hands of a drunken driver, and she knows of many teen accidents. Just last week, the media reported the deaths of four youths in Pleasant Hill from speeding and possibly alcohol. And four more teens died the same night in San Francisco from speeding. One girl called her parents from her cell phone just minutes before the accident in which she died. In Pleasant Hill, two parents drove around for hours looking for their daughter, only to receive the tragic, dreadful news the next morning.

In Contra Costa County, teens are twice as likely per capita to be involved in a fatal accident as other drivers. As manager of the county's Injury Prevention Project, I know too well the dangers of teenage driving. I've talked to many parents about the difficulty helping teens become safe drivers.

And as the parent of a teen, I know it's a major parenting challenge.

There are some strategies, however, that can help prevent a teenage driving tragedy in your family.

Drive safely yourself: Wear your seat belt, don't speed, don't drink and drive, and obey traffic laws. Youths tend to follow their parents' example.

Try to keep your child from high-risk driving situations: Find alternatives to your teen's driving with other teenagers. Minimize teen night driving. Pick up your teen and friends from parties and concerts.

Offer to give your child a ride home any time. A designated driver is better than nothing, but it usually still means a teenage driver. If your teen requests a ride, never punish him or her for other behavior, even if you suspect drinking. The potentially tragic consequences of not calling usually outweigh the benefits of punishment.

Talk to your teen about the tragic and bloody details of driving accidents. It's better to know the real consequences of dangerous driving and avoid them.

If you have a rebellious teenager, consider reducing the number of rules to one: "Don't ever lie to me. If you do something wrong - drink, drive fast, have sex, party, whatever - tell me about it before I find out elsewhere, then you won't be punished by me. We'll talk about it, and I may try every way I know to convince you to stop, but I won't punish you. But if you lie to me, beware."

Too often parents learn of risky behavior only after a tragedy. With honesty, parents have a chance to help avoid it.

Finally, parents should know and support California's graduated licensing law, which limits night driving and driving in a group for new teenage drivers unless accompanied by an adult over 25.

Now is the time to talk with your teen since more auto accidents happen during summer. For more information, visit the Injury Prevention Project on the Web at or call 925-313-6837.

Nancy Baer manages the Injury Prevention Project for Contra Costa Health Services.

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