The risk of being a teen driver

Mark, 18, was driving 17-year-old Sylvia as they were leaving the beach park to meet some friends. Mark was in a hurry since they were already late for their get-together. Their car struck another vehicle head-on. The other driver, a 67-year-old man, died on the scene. Mark and Sylvia were taken to the hospital in critical condition. Speed and alcohol were cited by the police as the possible cause for the crash.

Five days after graduating from high school, Mary, 17, and four classmates were on their way to her parent’s beach condo. Moments after text messages were exchanged on Mary’s cell phone, she slammed into an oncoming truck. All five teens were killed.

Traffic fatalities are the leading cause of death for 16 year olds. According to Teen Car Accidents Web site each year over 5,000 teens ages 16 to 20 die due to injuries caused by car accidents. For each mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are about four times more likely than other drivers to crash.

For all traffic accidents involving teens the following characteristices are major factors: inexperience, distraction, speed, alcohol, night time and not wearing seat belts.

“Anytime you have immaturity combined with inexperience, you have the potential for disaster,” states Nicole Nason, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Justin McNaull, director of state relations for AAA, lists three ways to help prevent crashes and saves lives.

Fight for stricter state laws

Hawai‘i is among the states that already has the toughest laws regarding driver licensing, seat belts and DUI.

Teach your kids

A teen’s poor judgement, which could contribute to an accident, is hardwired. For an adolescent the brain’s pre-frontal cortex, which manages tasks like controlling impulses, is not fully formed.

Doctor Flauta Winston, scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, explains that “our brains get tons of input from multiple places. Adults don’t act on all those impulses; we sort them. But teens have a hard time doing this.” Therefore, they have difficulty undertanding what is risky in a car. For instance, most will state that using a cell phone while driving, text messaging or having other teens in the car are not high risk behaviors.

Parents, emphasize the dangers to your kids and set a positive example for them with your own safe driving habits.

Some key points for parents to consider when they are teaching their kids to drive:

• Drive a lot: Practice together for at least 50 hours before the road test.

• Check your baggage: Do not bring existing conflict into the driving lesson time.

• Ease into it: Start out in an empty lot and gradually move up to low traffic and busy traffic.

• Practice controlling the vehicle: Practice taking control of the steering wheel with your left hand from the passenger seat in case you need to intervene for safety’s sake.

• Tackle tough tasks: Once your teen seems to have mastered the basics, expose them to high-stress situations such as night driving, bad weather, or crowded streets.

• Stay cool: Take frequent breaks and avoid yelling at one another.

• Debrief: After the lesson, ask your child to name three things they did well and three things you both need to work on.

• Improve your own habits: Your teen is watching you. If your driving habits do not match your message to them, they are less likely to retain the lessons you are trying to teach them.

Get tough at home

You are the parent and you can control when your teen gets licensed. Even if they are of legal age, if you think that they are not skilled and mature enough to drive, delay the licensing exam process until they are ready. You can also create your own phase-in law. It could include: no driving later than 10 p.m.; no more than one passenger in the car; and no cell phones — even with a headset.

Being consistent with your message and firm limits will help your teen become a responsible driver and could very well save his or her and someone else’s life.

• Tram Vuong Meadows is the Therapeutic Foster Home Program Therapist for Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i. She can be reached at, or Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i Inc., 2959 Umi St., Lihu‘e, HI 96766.


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