Statistically, the first few years in which you drive are the most dangerous of your life. Teenagers are at the greatest risk for motor vehicle accidents, and it is also the age group's leading single cause of death.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collects statistics such as these, and points to inexperience as the leading cause of all of these accidents among younger drivers. Propensities to distractions, drinking and failing to use seat belts also contribute.
So what can you, or a parent, do about it? You can start practicing careful and conscientious driving from the first time you get behind a wheel. The following tips are meant to make young drivers stronger in the specific areas that contribute the most to accidents.
1) Put Your Phone Somewhere You Can't Reach It
Someday, when you're comfortable and experienced with driving, you might install a phone mount in your car so that you can use map apps and voice assistants while driving or have a speakerphone conversation. That time is not when you're first starting out.
Put the phone in a bag in the back, or even in the trunk if you have to. The temptation is just too great in your younger years. Passing your driver's license exam means that you're competent enough to be ready for the road, but it doesn't mean that you're a good driver yet. There's a reason why you don't get big insurance discounts until you have at least three years of driving under your belt; that's the time it takes you to become a skilled driver. Relying on GPS too much during this time will weaken the core skill set you're supposed to be building.
Additionally, 36 states prohibit younger drivers, usually in the age range of 18-20, from any phone use while driving even if it is hands-free.
2) Always Allow Extra Time
One of those skills that comes with experience is the ability to subconsciously calculate how long you can expect it to take to get somewhere based on the distance, the roads you have to take, current conditions and expected traffic.
Until you build that skill, expect to consistently underestimate the amount of time you'll need. Which means you'll end up rushing, which is how bad, and sometimes fatal, mistakes are made.
Until you become more experienced, try to add at least 10 or 15 extra minutes to any trip to make sure that you don't have to rush on the way there.
3) Practice in Adverse Weather
The driver's license exam is not often taken in rainy or snowy weather. Depending on where you live, it may be some time after you are licensed before you encounter enough rain, snow or ice to make driving more difficult.
There are a lot of weather complications that you won't expect. How do you deal with loss of visibility in the rain or snow, especially at night? Do you know what the safest response is when you begin to skid on an icy road?
Your first real test in bad weather might be a particularly long or difficult drive. You don't want that to happen. Patches of rough weather should be used as an opportunity to practice in a safe area, like on a quiet street or in a large empty parking lot, before you get ambushed by a bad situation.
4) Be Mindful of Pedestrians and Bicycles
Driver's tests don't always emphasize watching out for bikes and pedestrians when they have right-of-way. For example, it's very easy to miss people waiting to cross when making a right turn while you're focused on traffic coming from your left.
Take a few practice runs around your city with a special focus on checking for pedestrians at each intersection, and scanning for those who might illegally ramble out onto the street in front of you (which is certain to happen at some point). A good way to keep pedestrians in mind is to become one yourself for a while; walk through a downtown area, use crosswalks and note how drivers behave.
5) Learn About Basic Maintenance
The driver's license test teaches you how to operate a vehicle, but it covers very little about mechanical function and maintenance. However, it's important to know the basics for the sake of road safety.
Young drivers should be aware of the items that regularly come up for "preventive maintenance"; in other words, things that need to be changed out every "X" miles due to wear and tear. Make sure you know how often the following need to be changed, and how to get it done, whether taking it in to a service station or doing it yourself. Regular maintenance tasks can include checking and replacing any of the following: oil, antifreeze, coolant, windshield wipers, tire air pressure and tread condition, brake pads, air filters, belts, and the battery.
6) Put Together an Emergency Kit
Are you prepared if you blow a tire, lose battery power or see a dashboard light while away from home? Many teen drivers are not.
Don't be one of the unlucky ones. A basic emergency kit is affordable, and probably one of those things that mom and dad could be convinced to subsidize.
Ideally everyone would have a spare tire, car jack and lug wrench, but realistically many modern cars don't have space for those. If you have AAA or some sort of reliable roadside assistance with your auto insurance, it might be OK to just call for help when a tire blows. After all, we're no longer in the days when you might blow out 10 miles from the nearest phone!
However, everyone should have a few items in the car that can quickly fix a problem before it becomes more serious. Jumper cables and reflective triangles are items #1 and #2. Other good ideas are a tire pressure gauge, duct tape, an emergency poncho, seatbelt cutters and a small flashlight.
7) Know Your Blind Spots
Every vehicle has its own range of blind spots. With larger vehicles like trucks and buses, there is often a unique blind spot range on each of its four sides. For example, a driver of a large tractor-trailer cannot see to their immediate front and back, but also to the right of the truck just ahead of and behind the view from the passenger window as well as to the left just behind the cab.
Learning the locations of the blind spots of various common vehicles (especially the large ones) is key to road safety.
8) Keep Trips With Friends Short
Distractions from phones while driving are a serious problem, but are actually the second leading cause of crashes for teen drivers. The first is talking to or looking at other passengers in the car.
From a social standpoint, it's probably impossible to get through your teen years without giving friends rides. Try to build up experience with short trips in which you stay focused on the road, however; ideally with just one friend in the passenger seat and no one in the back seat.
As you can see from these tips, the key to staying safe as a young driver is to recognize that you have limited experience and to work on improving driving skills in careful and intelligent ways.
Check out the WorkSafe Traffic Control Industries blog and newsletter for more valuable driving tips, traffic control equipment, and peruse the safety items for useful emergency equipment such as reflective vests, ponchos and tape!
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