Rules of the Road

How do you protect teens from the most deadly thing they’ll do in the next 10 years?

Five things that can help save your teen driver’s life

Five tips from NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer and B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe) to help teens drive safely and responsibly
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Five tips from NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer and B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe) to help teens drive safely and responsibly

Question: My daughter just got her driver’s permit, and I’m freaking out. I feel like we’re going to die every time she gets behind the wheel. What should I do?

Answer: I’d tell you to calm down, but I’ve been in your position before, and you actually have a legitimate reason to be afraid.

Not to make you even more anxious, but your daughter is practicing for what will likely be the most dangerous activity she regularly participates in for the next 10 years.

Young drivers age 16 to 25 make up 13 percent of Washington’s driving population, but they’re involved in about one third of all fatal crashes in our state.

In Whatcom County it’s even worse; young drivers are involved in nearly 40 percent of all fatal crashes.

Now that I have you even more freaked out, I want you to know that there are things you can do with your kid so that she has much better odds.

Crash statistics are made up of the best drivers, the worst drivers and everyone in between. With a commitment to training and by setting some family rules before you release your new driver into the wild, you can help her become part of the first category and greatly diminish the risk of harm.

Let’s take a look at the top factors in young driver crashes so you can get an idea of how to equip your daughter to succeed:

Alcohol and other drugs: Impairment is a factor in 57 percent of fatal crashes involving a young driver.

Speeding: Half of young driver fatal crashes include speed as a factor.

Distraction: About 30 percent of young driver fatal crashes in Washington involve a distracted driver. New drivers are not allowed to use a phone while driving, even hands-free.

Passengers: Friends in the car make new drivers worse drivers. Nearly half of all fatal crashes in Washington involving teen drivers included at least one passenger in the same vehicle.

Seatbelts: Over 55 percent of teens killed in crashes were not wearing a seatbelt.

Night driving: Most young driver crashes happen during the evening and night.

A quick review of that list is a pretty good starting place for setting family rules for new drivers.

The Intermediate Driver License (IDL) rules address several of those issues and can be reinforced in your family rules. I’d recommend putting them in writing and giving a copy to your kid.

Is that really necessary? Probably.

How much of what a parent says does an excited 16 year-old remember as soon as the keys are in hand? There are plenty of examples of teen/parent driving contracts online. Find one that fits your expectations and clearly communicate those expectations with your kid.

Probably even more important than telling your kid your expectations is setting a good example. For the past 15 years, your child has watched you drive, so your behavior has set the standard in your family. If you have some bad habits, it’s not too late to change. Talk with your kid about why you’re changing your driving behaviors and invite her to (kindly) point out any other things you need to work on. She’s not a good driver yet, but by the first week of driver’s ed most kids are happy to point out a parent’s driving mistakes.

Make sure your new driver gets all of the required supervised driving time, and then add some more. It takes time to develop the skills and experience necessary to recognize and respond appropriately to risks on the road. Start in a parking lot, and as she gains skills move to more advanced situations.

Most likely your daughter’s drivers ed program will have a parent night. Go to it and find more ways to participate in her driving education.

Even though a 16-year-old can legally get a driver license, turning 16 doesn’t magically make someone ready to drive. As a parent, you set the rules and you have the final decision on when your kid gets access to the car.

If your daughter has completed drivers ed and you’ve supervised the requisite 50 hours of driving but you’re still not confident that she’s ready to go out on her own, you can have her keep practicing until she’s ready.

Meanwhile, get her a bus pass. Using public transportation is the safest way to get around, especially for a teenager.

What I’ve written here is just enough to start you off on your mission to equip your daughter to be a safe driver.

To dig deeper, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission has some resources to help you navigate the hazards of young drivers. You can find more information at:

Road Rules is a regular column on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices. Doug Dahl is the Target Zero Manager for the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force. Target Zero is Washington’s vision to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030. For more traffic safety information visit Ask a question.