How can we help our teens stay safe on the road? An important way is to help them make safe choices. The theme of this year’s National Teen Driver Safety Week (October 18-24) ‘Avoid the Regret, Avoid Impaired Driving,’ encourages parents to talk to their teens about this safety risk and to make a plan to help them get out of unsafe situations without social embarrassment.
Impaired driving does include alcohol or drug use, but goes beyond these factors to anything that makes you less physically or mentally able to drive safely – like fatigue and strong emotions. Keeping the lines of communication open is important in helping to make sure your teen is not only safe on the road, but also healthy.
According to our research from CIRP@CHOP, teens who said their parents set rules and monitor their whereabouts in a helpful, supportive way were half as likely to be in a crash in the prior year and 71 percent less likely to drive intoxicated compared with teens who described their parents as less involved.
Teens that drink alcohol underage or that ride with impaired drivers are more likely to drive impaired themselves, according to other research. Teens who share knowledge about their lives with their parents are less likely to abuse alcohol in the future. Research conducted by my colleague Jessica Mirman, PhD, found that teens who say their parents closely monitor their driving and set rules were less likely to take part in several risky driving behaviors.
Here are some tips to help you talk to your teen about avoiding the regret of impaired driving, as a driver, as a passenger, and as a friend:
Talk about it. It is very important for you to talk with your teen about riding with an impaired driver and driving impaired. These conversations should occur when your teen’s newly licensed friends offer a ride or when your teen begins driving independently.
Share the facts. Alcohol affects our reaction times and ability to drive safely, as do other substances like marijuana and prescription pills that affect your alertness. Consuming any of these substances means your teen is unfit to drive.
Listen and be responsive to your teen’s concerns, which are often quite practical. Although it may be difficult to hear, encourage your teen to share WITHOUT judgment anytime when feeling unsafe and may need your help. These can include being asked to take a ride home with someone who is impaired or finding themselves impaired and needing to drive others.
Develop and follow rules together. Work together to set clear rules around safety, not control or tracking. Make it ok for your teen to use you and your rules and his reason for saying “no” so your teen can avoid unsafe situations without losing face.
Talk about emergency plans and Code Word. Consider making a concrete plan to help keep your teen safe. Decide how your teen will get in touch with you. Use a code word or phrase like: “How is Julie feeling?” that signals help is needed right away. You can respond with: “Not well, I need you to come home.”
Teens are at a developmental stage where they crave independence, and parents should reward responsible behavior with increased privileges. By discussing various scenarios that can lead to unsafe situations and a plan to deal with them, families can help teens feel comfortable making safety-oriented choices.
For more tips on helping teens avoid impaired driving from my colleague Jessica Mirman, PhD, download the National Teen Driver Safety Week 2015 Parent Guide.